News

Palo Alto couple presses for 'sense of urgency' in relieving academic stress

Personal tragedy created spark for 'We Can Do Better Palo Alto'

It seemed to come like a shot from nowhere.

Ken and Michele Dauber, Palo Alto parents of five, called for "new leadership" in the Palo Alto Unified School District in a guest opinion column published in late February in the Palo Alto Weekly.

Since then the couple -- she a Stanford law professor and he a Google software engineer with a PhD in sociology -- have become outspoken regulars at Board of Education meetings and elsewhere, pleading for emergency action to address academic stress in Palo Alto's two high schools.

"If I had hair, my hair would be on fire," Ken Dauber said, referring to a string of Palo Alto student suicides in the past few years.

Added Michele: "In the midst of a real crisis, sometimes you have to deviate from ordinary practices."

Impatient with established school-district protocols, the couple has argued aggressively -- some would say abrasively -- for a greater "sense of urgency" in revamping of district-wide homework and counseling policies.

They've launched an organization, "We Can Do Better Palo Alto," that claims an active membership of 20 and an email list of 130.

This week the couple, along with four other members of the group, appeared before the Gunn High School Site Council, calling for replacing Gunn's traditional counseling system with the "teacher advisory" system used at Palo Alto High School.

We Can Do Better will hold a public organizational meeting Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m. in Room A6 of Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road.

Although they don't usually bring it up, Ken and Michele Dauber make no secret of the fact that they too have lost a child to suicide -- their oldest daughter, Amanda.

The 25-year-old graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design -- who completed high school at Evanston Township High School in Illinois, where the family used to live -- died by suicide in June 2008. At the time, she had just mounted her first solo show at a Providence, R.I., art gallery.

Amanda was on medication and under psychiatric treatment for major depression at the time of her death. Academic stress was not a factor, her parents said.

But they have been galvanized to action in Palo Alto by what they see as an incomplete response to the local tragedies -- and district Superintendent Kevin Skelly's statements that academic stress does not play a role in suicides.

Skelly has called it dangerous to suggest "that there's a direct connection between the suicides and Gunn High School.

"I think it's a dangerous place to go, and unfair to the school, the district, the students and faculty who have worked very hard to create an environment there," he said in March.

The Daubers pointedly disagree.

"We know from the literature that academic stress can cause anxiety and depression, which in turn can cause suicidality," Michele Dauber said.

"We have to act with real urgency to make reforms now."

While supporting measures the district has taken so far, including screenings and suicide-prevention training, We Can Do Better advocates direct and focused attention to academic stress.

Group members praised the school board's decision this week to shift the 2012-13 academic calendar to schedule first-semester finals before winter break, giving high school students an assignment-free vacation.

But there are "many other, higher-impact changes that we feel are more important to the social-emotional functioning of our students and to reducing stress," such as attention to homework loads, block scheduling, later start times, advisory counseling and limits on test and "project stacking," Michele Dauber said.

School board members have said they will take up many of those issues, which are summarized in the "supportive school environment" section P-8 of a Project Safety Net report issued last summer, at their board retreat in August. The issues could become district "focus goals" next year.

Kathy Sharp, a Gunn parent and member of the advocacy group, said it's a "false choice" to think mitigating stress means sacrificing academic achievement.

"We believe students can feel connected, and we can have a school environment that reinforces that, without sacrificing academic performance," said Sharp, the mother of a senior and a sophomore.

Outside of Gunn, We Can Do Better has attracted parents from Paly and the middle schools, but the Daubers say that, with kids in the schools, some are understandably cautious about speaking out.

The Daubers are not.

"It is terrifying, yet we must step up and lead," Michele Dauber said.

"I know if it has not happened to you it may be hard to believe that anyone can be afflicted with depression. But the statistics show that as many as a third of adolescents suffer from depression."

The Daubers are not currently Gunn parents but expect to be in the future. Two of their four other children -- now in or graduated from college -- went to Gunn; another went to a boarding school and the youngest is a fourth-grader at Barron Park Elementary School.

Since Amanda's death, the couple has worked with Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda to address stress and establish mental health services at the school.

They also have come to know the parents of Palo Alto's teen suicide victims, who have created their own kind of support network.

"Our family has struggled to press on in the face of our devastating loss," Michele Dauber said.

"We are heartbroken every day and miss (Amanda) every day.

"I hope with all my heart that no family will have to suffer as we have and as these other families have."

Comments

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 10:35 am

Thanks Ken and Michelle for what you are doing.

I think it is wonderful that there is an advocacy group of parents who are organising together to help our teens. My ideas of stress relief may be different from yours, but it seems that parents are never listened to until perhaps now.

I really would like to get rid of busy homework and group projects which are so horrendously difficult to coordinate and in particular the Rube Goldberg physics project. It is homework like this which causes so much stress in my experience.

The other aspect is that no matter what the kids' activities are, they are competitive in Palo Alto. Getting onto a sport team, a lead part in the school play or even onto student council, can be really difficult and the way our schools are growing it is going to get even more difficult. It seems to me that even the fun activities are becoming so competitive that for the average B with some As students, there is a feeling of "why bother" and "what is the point". Some give up trying, some get depressed and both can lead to other things.

It is these middle of the road students that I worry about most. They are wonderful teens and they have no way of knowing it.


Posted by Linda Lingg, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 13, 2011 at 10:46 am

It is unfortunate that Chris did not stay at our Site Council meeting on Monday to get to know our wonderful Gunn community better. Instead of hearing about what we ARE doing to alleviate stress she left to interview and do a photo shoot with the Daubers.


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 10:58 am

Skelly with his head in the sand again... (sigh!)


Posted by Dad, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 13, 2011 at 10:58 am

"District Superintendent Kevin Skelly's statements that academic stress does not play a role in suicides."

Really?! Did Kevin actually say that? Who here genuinely believes that? On the face of it, this seems like rationalization or denial.


Posted by Happy Parent, a resident of Palo Verde School
on May 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

I am thankful that the Dauber exit. Sorry that their daughter died. Things are finally starting to change in this district (a little bit) since the Daubers started to advocate for our students. It has been two years (May 5th) since our first child died. Event though many people suspected that the suicides had something to do with Gunn (very likely the counseling system) no one took it on their account to investigate why, and to help improve things. SainT Marks/PIA tried, but it seems like Skelly is too powerful and put this group in their packets. And now they are out of the picture. The thing I like about the Daubers is that they are not afraid to speak the truth even if it hurts, and this in itself might make a change because the district does not want the true out. The school officials need people like the Dauber, otherwise, they are just nice, but nothing changes. You heard it at the Saint Marks meeting, the district could not come up with the changes, because none took place.


Posted by Limit APs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 11:08 am

I think stacked tests are just part of school and college. One cannot expect all teachers to convene and list their test dates on a master calendar.

However, I think PAUSD should consider limiting the amount of AP classes students can take. Colleges want to know if a student has taken the most rigorous schedule available, which would translate to enrolling in all AP classes possible. Do students really enjoy these subjects so much that they want to take AP classes (as AP was intended)? Or are they taking them for their college applications to be more competitive? If there is a limit to the quantity of AP classes, won't that alleviate student stress?

Do other comparable schools limit the number of AP classes one can take? Harker? Menlo?


Posted by Happy Parent, a resident of Palo Verde School
on May 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

Actually, Skelly also says that it is the Tiger Mom's fault that our students are under so much stress. It he has prove that this is true, I would like to ask him to open another school with the name "Tiger School"


Posted by Dad, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 13, 2011 at 11:18 am

I also would like to add that the efforts of the Daubers -- putting some sunshine on a difficult topic -- is highly welcome. Thank you.... we may disagree on the solution set, but we should fully air them out. Denial has no place in our community.


Posted by They are hypocrites!, a resident of College Terrace
on May 13, 2011 at 11:27 am

It is vastly amusing that they both make their rich living at two institutions that mandate extreme academic achievements over everything else. Stanford rejects 93% of all students including the large majority of Gunn students who apply because they are not "good" enough to join the Stanford community.

Google only recruits and hires from the Ivy and top related universities, requiring extreme rigor in academic achievement and technical capabilities in order to get hired.

Just saying...


Posted by Students are Too Smart, a resident of Ventura
on May 13, 2011 at 11:43 am

The average student in Palo Alto is very intelligent, usually the son or daughter of high performing parents. My guess (just a guess) is that the average student probably has a 120+ IQ. I believe that teachers are attempting to challenge the average Palo Alto student. Unfortunately, that's asking too much. Frankly, a child in the 25th percentile in Palo Alto would probably be at the 60th percentile or higher in many other school districts. I believe the teachers innocently think they are assigning an appropriate work load, but they really need to dumb things down if we are to successfully reduce stress levels. It might sound bad to dumb things down, but the point is, perhaps we've made the curriculum too hard for the students with a 100 IQ, leading to extremely high stress levels.

As for APs, please don't limit the number of APs a student can take. If a student really wants to take 4 AP classes in one year, that student is probably a genius and can honestly handle the load. You don't want to hurt that student's chances of getting into MIT, Harvard, Stanford, etc by artificially holding that student back. That student is unlikely to be a suicide risk, so don't restrict the high fliers.


Posted by A Day In The Life, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 11:59 am

I completely and wholeheartedly agree with Superintendent Skelly and his administrative staff. It's one way to address the "academic stress issue" in a rational and consensual way. It is dangerous and in fact fatal to be "vigilantes" at the expense of the overall good of the Palo Alto community. Thanks, Dr. Skelly. You are doing a wonderful job. Congratulations to the School Board for passing the new district calendar. Kudos all around

P.S. Why is it so hard to raise "good" parents nowadays? I admire and respect what The Daubers are doing but I do not favor the way they are doing it. It is so counterproductive and intuitive. What's next? Legal action against the school district for failure to cave in to what a few parents/guardians want?


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Many people agree that some things need to change. It is just that the Daubers and CS have a laundry list of demands which are not necessarily going to reduce stress. Calender change directly, adversely effects UC applicants because finals is one week after Nov 30 deadline. Later start times adversely effect athletes, a huge percentage of high school populations. TA system has well known disadvantages. Block schedule could also be tremendously stressful for those kids and teachers who can hardly stand 1 hour periods. Conversion to project learning for all subjects would be very difficult in some subjects and for some types of learners. These outsiders mean well but have gotten a hold of a list issued by academics who are eager to publish and often do not understand the variety of learners and abilities we have in the public schools. Neither group has stopped to objectively, fully and honestly analyze their requests or to get to know Gunn and much of Palo Alto before going to the press.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I really think that the only viable solution is to turn one of our two high schools into a "Tiger Parents" school. The parents who want to allow their kids to have a normal childhood, or a childhood, come to think of it, will send their kids to the other school. I don't care which one becomes the Tiger school.


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 1:16 pm

This is a difficult topic to discuss, rationally, because there has been a "blackout" on all of the family situations of those students who committed suicide. If there were special circumstances, or medical issues, it would seem that those cases might be dealt with on their own, rather than trying to claim that "academic stress" was the problem. If this were true, then this becomes more of a family matter, than a systemic education issue. In other words, should a child be able to request a transfer to a less stressful environment over his/her parents objection?

Since 99.999% of the kids don't do any harm to themselves during their four years in this school system, why are people so insistent that it's the schools, and not the home life that needs to be changed?


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm

"'District Superintendent Kevin Skelly's statements that academic stress does not play a role in suicides.' Really?! Did Kevin actually say that? Who here genuinely believes that? On the face of it, this seems like rationalization or denial."

I'm one who believes that. People leap to the conclusion that there is academic stress and that the stress must cause suicides. But looking at some of the suicides (a senior already into college, a freshman who attended only orientation, the kids at Paly in 2003) it is very hard to see academic stress as a major contributor. In the end, I expect the administration knows much more about the reality than we do.

I would be happy to see stress reduced (I have a Gunn junior, which is stress central) but in the right way and for the right reasons. I'm not sure what all the district do. Fiddling with the calendar and counseling systems may be helpful but as we've seen, even small changes trigger HUGE reactions from the parent community, making every experiment and adjustment an ordeal.

And btw, I agree that Tiger Moms (of all genders and ethnicities) are the most important source of stress, directly on their own kids and thence on to all the others. The idea that the school administration can meaningfully correct for the pressure from parents seems like a long shot to me.


Posted by HMB, a resident of another community
on May 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm

AP is a racket. It's a terrific money maker for the College Board, and it's a filter for elite colleges. It's ridiculous for high school students to have to take 5-6 AP classes a semester -- these are supposedly college courses, but in college most students take 4 courses. This should already tell you something. Many elite colleges no longer give credit for passing scores on many of the AP exams because they know these classes are no good. Most of the AP classes cram kids with facts from flash cards and do nothing but teach to the test -- no critical thinking skills involved at all, just rote memorization. This is maybe not totally useless for some disciplines, but if you are taking nothing but classes like this, it is a pretty dulling experience. I am so glad my baby is about to graduate and we can put this lousy high school game-playing behind us. My kids are disciplined and did very well in challenging classes, but they really shone in extracurricular activities where they could put their thinking and problem solving skills to use, like Mock Trial, Model UN, Robotics, etc. My older child also suffered and we nearly lost him to depression. Don't think academic stressed caused it (we have a strong family history for at least four generations), but it sure didn't help things!


Posted by Cathy, a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Way to go Daubers! It's about time someone held PAUSD's feet to the fire. How many students must we lose before significant changes are made? I disagree, however, that the Paly Teacher Advisor system is the way to go. These teachers are not trained, credentialed counselors. They do provide that "connection" to the school but a fully staffed (250:1 student to counselor ratio) is needed at both schools. That is the ideal ratio suggested by the American School Counselors Association. Additionally, counselors should NOT be doing administrative work, such as, testing, scheduling, discipline, etc. If they weren't bogged down with non-counseling duties, they would be more available to get to know all the students on their caseloads. Ideally, elementary and middle schools should also be staffed at the 250:1 ratio if we really want to make a difference in the lives of our children!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Hmm, my 2 cents. My son has graduated from Gunn and in college now. Yes, it was kind of stressful at gunn. However, son appreciates that Gunn has prepared him well to handle college workload. He said that he sees many of his friends who came from other "not stressful" schools suffer, plus there is no parent there to comfort them daily anymore. Some friend was top straight A student in high school but drop to "C" GPA in college, depressed. Some open minded ones pull themselves out of stress to accept "C", others not. So, Gunn, at certain level, did a good job to prepare student for future college stress. This should NOT be shadowed by a few suicide kids. For me, at least the parents are there daily when kids are still in high school. If high school is too easy, then those kids would get stressed out in college anyway. College student suicide is a big problem too. Better teach them early when you, parents, are sill around. Important advise, only send your kids to a college that fits him/her level of ability. Tell them being a regular worker in this society is OK with you. Yes, I believe that there are many Tiger Mom in Palo Alto, all races!!! They do nothing but compare my kid with your kid, who is going to which college...bla bla bla. Of course, some teachers at Gunn should also need to learn how to talk...don't compare top student with others when a teacher talked to other student, like who and who can do it, so why you cannot do it...I have personal experience about this kind talking, but I filter these words out before I talk to my son.


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm

My $0.02 - if there is, in fact, a link between academic pressures/expectations and suicide, that IMHO has much more to do with the family environment than it does the school environment. How parents raise their kids, and how they guide their kids' view of the world, is where the focus should be.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm

@Cathy

I agree that one of the many benefits of an advisory system is that it frees trained credentialed counselors to do the needed psychological counseling by providing academic counseling and scheduling through the teacher-advisory. The kids get a close relationship with teachers, and the counselors are freed to do what they are trained to do and specialize in. The ratio you suggest is obviously where we should be aiming for both schools. There are funding constraints, and given the same dollar, Paly is currently doing a better job than Gunn. That is just a fact borne out by years and years of data. But that does not mean that both schools would not benefit from more counselors and I would strongly support that, and support the expenditure for it.

Thank you for your thoughts.


Posted by Questions, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 13, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I'm wondering why this newspaper is continuing to highlight the perspectives of this couple. Does the Weekly have a specific staff turnover agenda? Should it? Please don't censor that question--given the many recent negative articles, I think folks should wonder about this.

I completely agree with A Day In the Life, who points out that this vigilante approach is confrontational and ultimately destructive. I am a Gunn parent and when I saw notice of Ms. Dauber's recent presentation, billed as "Why the Gunn counseling system is inferior to Paly's" or some equally comparative phrasing, I wondered why the approach she has chosen to take is that of a small child comparing the size of a slice of cake to someone else's? Why not, instead, talk about what she thinks the high school counseling system ought to be? I have heard from Paly parents that the teacher advisors are a mixed bag, that some are great but have long waiting lists and others are really only doing it for the extra prep. Maybe that IS the best system for kids, but every single thing I hear the Daubers say is so viciously critical, so absolutely dismissive of any good in the current administration and staff efforts, that all I am left with is concern that their loudly-trumpeted perspectives are fragmenting this district.

I lived through Mary Francis, intimately. We are SO much better off with Kevin Skelly. I HATE to read these calls for his dismissal. I have seen him with our kids and he GENUINELY cares and has done many personal things that parents do not know to support district kids. While I appreciate the efforts and the caring for kids, can we please try to improve with constructive, not destructive, methods?


Posted by Anna R, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm

What's the percentage of students who committed suicide out of the whole school? Can anybody know what was the real reason for each kid why they chose to die by suicide? Without knowing the real reason to each suicide, but just blaming the school, don't you think it is unfair to all the people who work hard to bring up our students 's best achievements ? Also please note high school has different level selections of each main subject. Can you (the parents) please help your kid to choose the easiest level? If the easiest one still too much pressure for your kid, can you please move out to an easier environment community. US is so big, You can always find a place has less academic stress. Otherwise it will be unfair for those kids who want to achieve better. Please don't drag those hard working kids with strong mind. Stress is everywhere, even when I talk to a elementary kids, they also have some stresses. People get stress from work too, without stress, how can the fountain go high? The only thing we need to do is to lead the kids or help them to handle stress properly.


Posted by Darren Neuman, a resident of Community Center
on May 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Regardless your opinion on whether or not stress impacts suicide decisions, there is pretty clear data that students are under significant stress. There seems to be very little disagreement on that point.

Reducing stress for a majority of students will also help those in serious depression/anxiety as well. There is no downside to helping all our students.

This can be done without a loss of academic rigor, and it does not require changing the Tiger Moms into something else. We don't need compromise how we parent, nor does this imply that someone is a bad parent.

And the solutions are actually in front of us.

Project Safety Net P-8 plan will achieve this. We need to support the school to get this implemented. It will benefit us all.


Posted by AR, a resident of another community
on May 13, 2011 at 3:16 pm

What struck me most about this article was the body language in the picture. Aggressive.

I should say that I'm not involved in Palo Alto schools at all anymore (graduated from Gunn in the early 90s).


Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by don't be so condescending, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Please, refrain from comments like these posted above, that are not addressing the main aspects of the discussion but writing extremes to throw the discussion off track:

"Since 99.999% of the kids don't do any harm to themselves during their four years in this school system, why are people so insistent that it's the schools, and not the home life that needs to be changes?"
-- this is way overstating the situation. There are plenty of stressed teens in our high schools, irregardless of the actual suicide stats. I, for one, am very sorry about any suicides and also aware of an atmosphere that is not optimum for many students in the schools. Many of us noticed certain situations in the high schools that could be improved, and we believe these things would reduce stress while maintaining high academic standards.

"Can you (the parents) please help your kid to choose the easiest level? If the easiest one (sic)still too much pressure for your kid, can you please move out to an easier environment community. US is so big, you can always find a place (sic) has less academic stress. Otherwise it will be unfair for those kids who want to achieve better."

You are dripping with condescension. Sorry, your attempt to paint many of us as losers is incorrect and nasty. Many, if not all of us posting out of concern for our teens here, have high standards and high achieving students. Very little of this discussion, I would guess, is about remedial students or special ed students, etc. who likely receive support. It is about high achievers who are good kids trying to exist in a nasty competitive atmosphere contrived by unethical Tiger Mothers.

Thank you to the Daubers, people I have never met, for taking action and who are acting out of genuine community concern rather than the selfishness of some parents posting here!


Posted by Makes sense to me, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm

@Questions

I don't really get the anger in your post and some of the others. Vigilante? Vicious? Destructive? I haven't gone to all of the presentations and school board meetings, etc., but what I've read in other threads and here is that these parents want to improve the schools, think that some are doing a better job than others in some areas (like Paly and Gunn on counseling), and don't think that the district is moving fast enough to respond to the suicides in the area of academic stress. I don't think that saying that out loud makes them destructive, seems like it makes them concerned citizens trying to get involved. I don't know if I would agree with everything they want, but they seem to be saying it clearly. In the case of counseling, I have heard them say "Paly has an advisory system that works better than Gunn's -- let's switch to that." What is the big deal? Maybe they are wrong, but it doesn't make them like a small child with a piece of cake or whatever your analogy is.
As far as Skelly goes, I'm sure that he can take some criticism without falling to pieces. At least I hope his response makes more sense than yours does.


Posted by Miller, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I would also like to thank Dr. Skelly for his measured response. Here's the thing I don't get - if parents are so concerned about the stress of their children, why don't they just tell them to take easier classes or just not really care what grades they get? Problem solved. Simply "graduating" requires little more than showing up and completing assignments. There's nothing competitive about it. There will still be a job for you somewhere. The simple fact is you are not entitled to a job at Google, Cisco, Facebook, HP, or admission to undergrad or professional school at Stanford, Cal, or any other school, for that matter.
If you choose to compete for admission in one of these top programs, then I'm sorry, its going to be stressful for you now, and later. Its not going to end. There's no law saying you have to even try to get into one of those programs, and you know what, you are no better or worse than anyone else because of it.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2011 at 4:12 pm

@Resident

Wow. Well I guess anonymity makes it easy to say stuff like that. I would be happy to share my philosophy (and SLS's) on grading. Stanford Law School eliminated grades two years ago, and switched the the system utilized by Yale Law School (and Harvard shortly followed suit). That system is one in which the vast majority of students receive a P (for pass) with a few receiving H for honors. This move was intended to eliminate much of the unnecessary stress and competition and allow space for closer relationships between faculty and students, as well as among students. Learning, rather than grading, is emphasized. I really like this system and I feel it allows all students to thrive, take risks by taking classes in which they are interested without undue risk of "wrecking GPA" and sends a message to employers that all our students are excellent, which they are.

I also teach undergraduates in the sociology department. I emphasize project-based learning, and grant the opportunity to rewrite papers to obtain a better grade if the student wants to do so in order to teach the skill of rewriting drafts -- something they will need to know in life.

When I attended law school it was a stress bath. I have experienced that kind of pressure first hand and know how hard it can be. I am so happy that I have a progressive Dean and a wonderful Provost and I am not forced to place my students in that kind of misery.

My message to Stanford law and undergraduate students is "get off the treadmill and find your passion." I think many of these kids have spent so much time competing and fighting to grab that brass ring that they have not had close relationships with faculty because they were constantly in an evaluative relationship and I love having close relationships with my students. It is the most rewarding part of my job. I am having a dozen of them over for a BBQ tonight, in fact.

This is the kind of teaching that is rewarded at Stanford, and in 2006 I received the Walter J. Gores Prize for excellence in teaching, a University-wide prize that is Stanford's highest teaching honor.

I know that your comment was meant to be mean and not serious but I treated it that way because I think it is relevant that I have spent a lot of time thinking about my own pedagogical theory and methods.


Posted by Barbara Slone, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 13, 2011 at 4:25 pm

I would like to second the posting above about the level of condescension here. The Daubers have the courage to step out of the box and say things that have been needed to be said for a long time. Fortunately, the conclusions that they have come to and suggestions for how to change things have been solidly researched and are backed up by tons of data. They are offering solutions that I believe will not dilute the quality of education our students are receiving. This is something that unfortunately must be aggressively dealt with because there is overwhelming evidence to support their claims that academic stress can contribute to depression. Dr. Skelly continues to maintain that there is little or no correlation. I am happy that the Daubers are shining a light on this and also that they are requesting that the P-8 section of Project Safely Net be implemented this coming school year and not be put off another year or more. This section is devoted to promoting a "supportive school environment". I believe that all parents in this district would agree that we should do everything we can to support student social/emotional wellness. That is the bottom line. We cannot afford to continue on with the same way of doing things if there are fixes out there that will not cost the district or the students anything. The only thing that will occur will be gains. There is no evidence that having a culture in the school that supports connectedness will lower academic performance. I would characterize the photo of the Daubers as serious rather than aggressive because this is a serious problem that we all need to aggressively address. Thank you Michele and Ken for stepping up to the plate to do something. There has been enough hand-wringing and denial going on in Palo Alto for far too long. Let's continue to try and improve life for all of our students. Parents, if you want to learn more about what Ken and Michele and the growing movement "We Can Do Better Palo Alto" are doing, I encourage you to attend the meeting at Cubberley (room A6) at 7pm on Tuesday (5/17). We want to hear from you! Even if you are years away from secondary school with your children you can help assure that when your children arrive in high school it will be a better place. My children finished Paly in '95 and '98 but I still see that I can help change the climate at our schools. Won't you please join us? If we help one child not fall through the cracks due to our efforts it will an effort well spent.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I agree with the poster @ "A Day in the Life" and others that follow that what the Daubers are doing is counterproductive. Their crusade against the school district is distracting valuable resources from our schools, and highly divisive in the community.

It's unfair to blame the school district for the suicide cluster at Gunn when we don't even know what caused those suicides. Suicide is a highly complex issue. Cluster adds another layer of complexity. While academic stress could be a factor in some suicide cases, in many other cases it may have played very little or no role at all. I think the Daubers are over exagerating the impact of academic stress on suicide. They may have read some research papers on suicide, but they are no expert in that area.

According to the article, the Daubers lost their own daughter to suicide while she was under treatment for a mental illness, but they said academic stress was a not a factor. I also have relatives in my own family, including my brother, who died of suicide. Those too had nothing to do with academic stress but were related to mental illnesses (unfortunately, genetics does play a role in many mental conditions).

While I'm very sorry to hear about the Daubers' tragic loss, I find it even harder to understand how they drew the conclusion that academic stress was an important factor causing the suicides at Gunn.









Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm

> "Since 99.999% of the kids don't do any harm to themselves during
> their four years in this school system, why are people so insistent
> that it's the schools, and not the home life that needs to be
> changes?"

These are the simple facts. Perhaps you should look up the word "condescension" .. as it is clearly not the correct word to characterize that posting.

The school system is not the only variable in this equation. That is a simple fact.


Posted by A parent at PAly, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I am outraged by the small amount of parents like the Daubers, who manipulate the Media and News to distort the opinion of the whole community on these issues. 20 people does not represent the majority of the community, yet they are in headlines every month. There should a district wide poll to see actually how many people agree with their demands.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 4:39 pm

For all of those who are questioning the Dauber's and their right to attempt to make changes, here is a post from a different thread which you ought to read.

<Posted by gunn student, a member of the Gunn High School community, 14 hours ago

im just glad im graduating from gunn before this change so that I don't have to hear all this stupid parent quibbling about 'destressing winter break' when the real source of stress is the fact that my competition at this school is people who are taking 8 APs a year and getting straight As. My wimpy honors and 2 APs -might- get me into UC Santa Cruz, if I can maintain my 3.9 GPA, so I can be 30% class rank! whoppee!!




One of the teachers in the STAR test proctoring us today was questioning aloud about other schools who limit kids to 3 APs a year. I wish Gunn had that. Maybe I wouldn't feel like a piece of garbage every time I heard some kid bragging about his 2390 SAT and how he was gonna retake it to get a 2400. And here I thought, my 2150 was pretty good.




I guess I can cross off all ivies and all decent public schools off my list. Community College ain't looking so bad. I guess I'll just have to dishonor my ancestors - sorry guys, I shouldn't have gone to gunn. This school sucks. Work your ass off and be below average. You have to get an internship at Google at age 12 in order to stand out here.>

What is anyone doing to help this Gunn student? At least the Dauber's understand there is a problem.

My ideas on reducing stress are mentioned in the first post on this thread. I don't know if Ken and Michele read this post, but I would put this student (who wrote this post in the middle of the night) in the category of needing help and needing it asap. For this student and probably many others, there is a crisis. The schools seem to have their hands tied in helping. Even the calendar change is not going to help this student.

We have to stop bickering, agree that there is a crisis and do something to help.

To this Gunn student if you are reading this, I will listen to you. If you want someone to talk to and feel there is no one else, post here to Paly Parent and I will be at a Starbucks sometime after school to listen to you. You can let me know and we will plan a day. I can't do much else, but I promise to listen.


Posted by Darren Neuman, a resident of Community Center
on May 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Paly Parent/Gunn student:

I couldn't agree more! There is no reason an A student with AP's and 2150 on the SAT should be upset - these kids are brilliant!


Posted by Barbara Slone, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 13, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Paly Parent: Thanks for your posting from the Gunn student. This hits the nail right on the head. I hope that this student gets the support he/she needs.


Posted by future gunn parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 13, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Well, the message I got from the kid's post is:

Move to another school district and you can probably be in the top 10% and be better off. Problem is, how do you convince the family to make a move for the kid's sake. Everyone is sure free to move, but why don't they?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm

The no-grade system at Stanford Law School (and other top law schools such as Harvard and Yale) that Ms. Dauber bragged about cannot possibly be implemented in our high schools. The vast majority of the graduates from these top law schools have little trouble getting the jobs of their choice. In fact, the law firms are the ones who have to compete very hard to attract their graduates.

As one poster pointed out above, the highly selective admission/recruiting policies at top colleges like Stanford and companies like Google are the root cause for the increased stress at our high schools. If the vast majority of Gunn and Paly graduates could get into a top college, I'm sure the stress level would be greatly reduced and we wouldn't need to talk about stress reduction here. If the name of your college were irrelevant when applying for a job, I'm sure that would also trickle down a great deal of stress reduction to our high schools.

I suggest that the Daubers start redirecting their energy at their own institutions to try to relax their admission/recruiting policies before coming back to demand changes in our high schools.


Posted by don't be so condescending, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 5:23 pm

This is addressed to those who require their teens to take the maximum number of APs offered, for no reason other than to outcompete and outstress peers - I just viewed more of the BoE meeting and watched a man during public comment at the microphone - he said CASTILLEJA is getting rid of APs (I have no way to corroborate).
Isn't that interesting!

Thank you, Prof. Dauber, for explaining more about Stanford. We all know what a fine and productive institution it is!
I am happy to report I have a kid attending a fine university and have heard wonderful reports about the professors there, too, and the evidence is that one CAN operate a high-standards educational institution with a great atmosphere and where the students receive an outstanding education. Students seem inspired to work super hard but are not gaming the system as directed by Tiger Mothers, as is done here to a fair extent, that the ends justify the means. They ought to work on that concept around here, at Gunn and PALY.


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I don't know where all this is going to lead us... The board is going to feel pressured to "urgent"ly make some change, any kind of change, just to appease those who keep on pounding that we need to make changes NOW. And what will it lead to? Some poorly thought out decisions that may turn out to not improve anything, or even make things worse, at least for some campuses.

I am a Paly parent, and we are happy there. My children have been happy there and have not feel stressed. I really don't want Paly to be changed to appease the Gunn crowd, just like we just did with the calendar issue. Let's leave alone what works well enough. Please, do not make changes just to appease a group of Gunn parents. Or else, make the changes at Gunn alone, and leave Paly alone.

Thanks.


Posted by don't be so condescending, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Maybe there is a misunderstanding. I am not for lowering grading, AP courses, just for making sure they are correctly utilized. I
am for a few other changes, too.
Once upon a time, AP courses, for example, were for upperclassmen who were personally interested and invested in a subject (and usually had some prior education or proven knowledge). There was no "race" to take more than one's peers. Students became educated...NOT test-takers and afterwards-forgetters and competers to see who could cram in the most # of APs to outgame one's peers for college apps.
It is CRITICAL that cheating and plagiarism and other ways of gaming the system be openly discouraged by administration to have a level playing field and atmosphere conducive to learning.
I also feel it is vital there be accountability in education - that students who take a course elsewhere or are fully prepped in advance, have that recorded in their official records so HS and universities understand which students have gamed the system in order to obtain their high GPAs and which other students have taken each course in good faith, one time, and earned his/her grade. I think honesty and authenticity are vital, and these are sometimes going by the wayside from what I observed here in recent years. This is discouraging for those who live their lives with strong ethics...who do not have thousands and connections for secretive (or not so secretive prepping and handholding and college apps preparation by others)...some young student have been turned off by their experiences here. As a public service, I contribute by airing these concerns so future students will hopefully benefit with a more honest atmosphere.
There is always some new scheme going on. Yes, in my experience, it is more prevalent here than in some other very high performing areas I am closely familiar with.
The difference in what is currently going on, is GAMING the system and while you cannot control unethical Tiger Moms and their teens, the schools can thoughtfully consider ways to regulate and record such activity...and discourage it...because IT IS WRONG.


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Please, do not eliminate AP classes because some students (or their families) don't know how to limit themselves.

There is already a limit on the number of AP a student can take. To take more than 2, you have to go through a special authorization process that everybody has to sign off on. It's not the fault of other students if some take too many APs...

My children have always taken a reasonable number of AP classes, 2 or 3, no more, and they have thrived on them because the found the material more interesting than regular classes.

Please, let's not continue punishing all students and families for the same of just a few, just like we have done with the calendar. Let's keep AP classes and let's educate students and families on the virtues of self control. If families are not able to control their kids, it is their problem ultimately.


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Let's not continue punishing all students and families for the sake of just a few*


Posted by Kathy Sharp, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 5:43 pm

We Can Do Better Palo Alto is hosting a meeting in which all are welcome to attend.

Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m. in Room A6 of Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road.

The Daubers and other parents recognize that transparency is important and thus the use of media to communicate around issues of importance to the community. In addition to posting on this forum, we welcome you to come to the meeting, meet with the Daubers and other involved parents and learn more about the goals of We Can Do Better Palo Alto. We reject the false choice between mitigating stress and sacrificing academic achievement. We are working as an advocacy group to add focus and urgency around the implementation of the P-8 Supportive School Environment goals. We hope you will join us next Tuesday.


Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2011 at 5:59 pm

When I ran for Palo Alto School Board almost four years ago, I consistently heard from Gunn parents that the guidance system was woefully inadequate and paled in comparison to the services that Paly students were receiving. I heard from parents of all kinds of students, but the basic message was consistent: significant changes needed to be made to better support students both academically and personally.

Since then, the Gunn community has experienced tragedy, and discussions of student stress and the need to better support students have received headlines. Yet there has sadly been little change in the support Gunn students receive from the guidance staff.

This has personally hit home as my son, now a Gunn Junior, has attempted to navigate the system. My wife and I have been both amazed and chagrined about the sorry state of the current system, and the resistance to making much-needed changes.

It is because of frustrations like this that the Daubers and other like-minded parents feel compelled to speak out and be confrontational. Asking nicely hasn't accomplished anything. I think the Daubers would agree that they would much prefer to be highlighting all the district has done to partner in addressing these issues.

No one is blaming Gunn alone for all the suicides - that's a red herring. Likewise, the people who simply engage in personal attacks on the Daubers are clearly not interested in acknowledging or addressing the problem. Go ahead and disagree with their tactics, present your own set of facts to counter theirs. At least you will be part of trying to find a solution.

These are complicated, highly emotional and sensitive issues. But they must be discussed and solutions found. There are no silver bullets, no quick fixes. But there are concrete steps the district can and should be taking. When our institutions aren't responsive, then it is up to the people to speak out and demand change.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone willing to put themselves out there publicly and put in countless hours for the good of the community should be praised, not attacked. Let's work together - we can do better.


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 6:03 pm

I really agree with Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood who argues that the change that is needed is change in companies such as Google...

What is this deal with hiring only or almost only people with graduate degrees from Ivy league universities or equivalent?

That's nonsense in the first place! Look at all the geniuses that Google would never recruit with that policy, such as Steve Jobs for starters.

For one thing I think that Google will find itself hurt in the end with this narrow minded attitude about recruiting. There are so many brilliant, creative people who don't have an Ivy League degree.

Then, people who work in companies like Google may end up with a warped view of the world, and expect that their kids won't survive in the world if they don't have an Ivy League degree as well. It is such baloney.

It reminds me of Europe where I grew up where creativity and dynamism in some countries are thwarted by the prevailing culture of hiring people only from some top schools, and not others. When one knows that to graduate from those top schools one needs skills that are necessarily correlated at all with what it takes to be successful in the business world, it becomes obvious that it's the wrong mindset. It has not worked well in Europe. Why in the world are we now doing this in the US?


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Correction to above post (apologies for my mistakes)

... skills that are NOT correlated...


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 13, 2011 at 6:22 pm

The reason AP classes should be looked at very closely and perhaps even banned is because they are used by Tiger parents to game the system. It's no different than an Olympic swimmer showing up all juiced up on steroids and winning a medal. There are parents, even in Palo Alto, who can't afford to hire very expensive tutors years in advance to prepare their kids for AP. It creates in essence a caste societal system in which some parents are gaming the system so their kids can attend elite schools and become top earners with the power and influence it generates. A great deal of the blame lies with universities such as Stanford and their skewed admission philosophy, but we can't control that. We can certainly control and de-fang the Tiger parents if we put our collective minds to it.


Posted by Ted Henderson, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I teach in a school district with a high number of students who are classified as English Language Learners. The district offers English classes for the parents so that they can more effectively assist their children in being successful in school and life. Everyone seems to understand student success and well-being is a joint effort of the district and the families.

It seems that some Palo Alto parents could benefit from classes on raising well-balanced students in a high stress environment. I don't imagine it is realistic to eliminate ALL of the stressers in our high schools. Besides, as one person said, the stress is waiting for them at the college level anyway. I'm sure that our city has properly qualified people to help our high achieving parents learn to prepare our children to better handle the pressures they face here. While there are certainly things the school district can do to relieve stress, when I see "We Can Do Better Palo Alto", I assume that to be true of the parents as well as the school district.


Posted by parent , a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm



"As far as I'm concerned, anyone willing to put themselves out there publicly and put in countless hours for the good of the community should be praised, not attacked. Let's work together - we can do better."

Ditto

I especially support parents speaking out. Representing authentic personal opinions instead of runarounds from the district. Public schools by definition are political, see Atlantic for "The Failure of American Schools"
Web Link


Trickle down should not be an option. Daubers, you may need to get very political, it's OK.




Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 7:34 pm

@ daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

I agree with you on people gaming the system and I am with you on all of it... I belong to the group who won't use those means and can't afford them.

However, to take your analogy, we don't eliminate the Olympics because some people cheat. We just try to weed out the cheats. Maybe we should do something similar with people who game the system, detect them and make it less possible to pre-take AP classes from paid tutor, or hire someone to write your college essay...

However, eliminating AP classes will unnecessarily punish people who take them for genuine reasons, as my children have. I don't agree with this at all. One of my children loved the AP classes he took, and did better in them than in regular classes. Why take this away?

BTW colleges are starting to wake up to this. My daughter knew someone who worked at the admissions' office of her university. She told me that in that office they felt they could detect the admissions' essays that were contrived and not genuine.

More universities are now adding or reintroducing (in some cases) interviews into the admission process. This is great...

So, let's work on what can hamper the rigged applications but let's not punish the kids who are genuine. There is already a limit on APs in the books in Palo Alto, maybe it's just time to apply it more strictly or to give it more teeth somehow. But eliminating APs is going overboard.


Posted by Richard, a resident of Portola Valley
on May 13, 2011 at 7:56 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Marielena G-M, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 8:44 pm

We can all think that our kids are doing great, that they are not stressed out,that nothing needs to be done, and that everybody is happy. This is what we did or believed in the past, but obviously not every kid was doing great and we got into a suicide contagion, which this is a big warning that our educational system needs change so it can fit all students. Children are so good at hiding stress from so much homework and as a result of sleep deprivation because they do not want others to think that they are failures. (One student from he panel said this at the Denise Pope Lecture last month). We cannot longer pretend that everything is okay even though students are dying. That did not work in the past. It is time to make a change so when middle and elementary students get there the schools are a supportive environment where all can thrive. Thanks to the Daubers for taking the lead and speaking on behalf of those students who are hiding their suffering and cannot ask for help because society does not considerate right. Keep up the good work, hope more people open their eyes and join us, so together we can do a better Palo Alto for our students.


Posted by Amy balsom, a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I applaud the Daubers! You two are doing a great community service by pushing these issues. So little has been done to respond to the mental health crisis in this community. Gunn in particular is not a good environment for many of our kids, so any changes we can affect to improve this should be enacted. Without the dialog that the Daubers are sparking NOTHING would ever happen. All of you critics, read the post that excerpts the Gunn student's post. That articulates the problem in painfully clear words. Our schools should help our kids thrive, not beat them down. We Can Do Better Palo Alto is trying to make positive change and I'm all for it!


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2011 at 8:59 pm

@ Marielena G-M, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood

Well, believe it or not, there are students who are NOT hiding stress, who get enough sleep, and who are doing well.

I once got into a discussion, on a similar thread with a person, who adamantly argued that they knew better than me what my kids feel, even though they are my kids and that person did not know my children. If something is ridiculous, that is it.

I know how my kids are doing, they are not hiding anything from their parents, and they ARE doing fine.

I am tired of arrogant people who declare they know better and no student can't possibly be thriving in Palo Alto schools. Enough already. There are students who have problems, and there are (many if not most) students who are just fine. Sorry if it's not the case of the students you know.

Denying well adjusted students things that other students can't handle (including AP classes) just is not fair to all.

And if I read one more post hinting that I don't know my kids, that they are hiding things I can't see, and that they must be terribly stressed, I will not respond to those posts. I will just say now in anticipation and once and for all: such statements are just ridiculous.

Signed: Parent of current and past Palo Alto K-12 students who are thriving (and not gaming the system).


Posted by Patrick Grogan, a resident of Community Center
on May 13, 2011 at 9:40 pm

When I see the range of responses here from constructive engagement to responses so objectionable that they had to be pulled I am reminded of the adage "what I say tells you about me but how you react tells me about you". What chords are the Daubers hitting that so irritates some people, if they are indeed so biased and misled then why do they elicit such a reaction"? In the haste to attack often lies a deep seated need to defend.

Before going further I would like to point out that I have had the privilege to get to know the Daubers over the last two months as part of the " We can do better Palo Alto" group and if you took the time you would see that they are not ogres hell bent on destroying PAUSD but are in fact concerned parents advocating children's well-being

Their "evil" is to have a vision where all children thrive socially,emotionally and academically....their " disruptive" tactics include educating parents on the causes of stress in our school system, sharing research on best practices locally and nationally and advocating for the adoption of section P8 of the very study our own city and school district commissioned and endorsed....dangerous stuff indeed

This is not about acceptale levels of suicide, that answer is none, it's about creating a school environment where children thrive, something that was clearly not the case in the recent school survey. It's not about blaming the school it's about parents like myself taking accountability for advocating for our individual children so that all can thrive not just some. This is about possibilities for all children, from the children excelling to the middle majority and the children falling further behind daily.

Put down your pitchforks and torches for a moment, you can always pick them up later but first engage and heaven forbid we may even come to solutions together that nobody has envisioned today....nobody has the patent on good ideas


Join the discussion Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m. in Room A6 of Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road. Leave your pitchforks at the door, our insurance does not cover them:)


Posted by Marielena G-M, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

@ Leave Paly alone, please, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, 10 minutes ago
Yes, I know not everybody is hiding things, but there are many who are.I am really glad you know your kids and that they are doing fine. I think this has to do with the fact that he or she goes to Paly. My children attended Gunn and were not doing fine, one of them pretended to be, and the other one literately screamed out loud that Gunn was an awful place, and wanted out. He is finally out. The other one just like his friends suffered in silence and was counting the days for school to be over. Now he does not want to hear the word Gunn at home. Unfortunately there are more students like my son and his friends who are experiencing a lot of stress, and they are hiding it. We need to break the stigma to failure. We need to let them know that it is ok to ask for help if they are suffering from stress or from any other source, and that their chances to go to college will not diminish by asking for help. In order for them to ask for help they might need an adult other than their parents, who they know and can trust to talk about this kind of issues. This is what the Daubers are trying to do by improving the poor counseling system that Gunn has had fail our students for so many years. It needed it to be improved six, five, four, three, two, one year ago, and continues to need improvement today. We cannot wait any longer, our kids deserve to have first quality counseling just like Paly, and if possible even better. it is about time, let's not fail our students another year. Yes, Paly might not be perfect, but it is way better than the kind of system Gunn offers to students. Thanks for posting and giving your opinions. Again I am glad that your student/s are doing fine. Please help other students who are not so fortunate.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I have elementary school children. After the tragedies in our community, the meeting at St.Marks, the discussion about stress in our high schools and then finally the more recent school calendar issue, I have started to really panic about what lies ahead for my children in the PAUSD.

A question I have is to what extent the school board members are getting involved in this discussion. Shouldn't they be held responsible to some extent for the excessive amounts of homework/projects that lead to sleep deprivation, work overload and stress?


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2011 at 11:18 pm

@ Marielena G-M, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood,

I am really sorry things were so difficult for your children and for many other children, apparently mostly at Gunn. I do agree that there should be no stigma for failing. I agree with everything you say. I would add that people need to understand that not going to an Ivy league university or equivalent is far from the end of the world.

I understand that parents want change. I would just like to caution that we should not rush change for the sake of change. That we need to be careful and not break things that work, where they work. I am hoping that changes can be made where necessary (at Gunn for example if needed) without impacting other schools.

Paly had its suicides in 2003. I had a child there at the time.It was tragic (although at least in one case not related to school apparently). It seems to me that Paly came together and implemented some successful changes. The block schedule started this year at Paly is fantastic for instance.

But, when I hear calls to change everything, right now, get rid of all APs, etc. I do start worrying about what will happen.

Maybe changes should be addressed on a site by site basis and not wholesale for the whole school district, against the wishes of a majority of people, as it just happened with the earlier school start date in August (I am talking start date, and not pre-break finals, which is a separate issue).


Posted by She's Leaving Home, a resident of Mountain View
on May 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Parents set such high expectations on their children, they will blame everyone and anyone but themselves. I am a parent myself but one thing I do know is I listen to my daughter and I listen well. It's not just listening, but listening actively. We think we know it all we forget that communication is a two-way and oftentimes multi-way street. Let us try to think and act like parents for once.

One thing I try to inculcate to my child is to be resilient. This is as much a parental responsibility as well as the academic community. This is a no-brainer. You don't need to be a Stanford professor or an IT guy to understand this concept.

We tend to forget that academic stress is only one color in the spectrum. There are other colors involved and many shades of grey. There is peer pressure, the destructive effects of the media to our kids, genetics and a host of other factors.


Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2011 at 12:08 am

@ Leave Paly alone, please

It is great that you have such a close relationship with your kids that you are positive that they are not hiding anything from you. I'm happy for you. Really. But you should realize you are in a distinct minority. Because if you ask most teens whether they tell their parents everything, they will roll their eyes and talk about how gullible their parents are.

I also agree it was ridiculous that someone who didn't know your children to argue they know your kids better than you.

But please understand that most kids who have committed suicide, along with many with other severe problems, had parents who were sure they knew their kids too. They are not bad parents. It's just that many kids (and adults) are very good at hiding things, even for those close to them.

You also shouldn't worry about your kids not having the opportunities you want for them. The Palo Alto School District is designed for and caters to kids like yours and parents like you.

However, the school district should also serve the other 80% of the population. And it does that a lot less well.

As for your comment about "the majority of parents being against the earlier start date" you are simply making that up, unless you personally did a survey of all the parents in the district. I've seen no data to back up your claim. Since we're apparently in the business of guessing, I would guess that if the majority of parents agreed on anything, it would be that the people who think the top priority of the school district should to protect their month-long vacations in the south of France are whacked. And I'm someone who thinks the natural order of things is for school to start after Labor Day (but think the board made the right decision in this case).

Finally, I will note that it is easy to criticize others when hiding under a pseudonym. You and other critics would have a lot more credibility if you were willing to attach your name to your comments. Reasonable people can disagree. That's often where the best solutions come. But I tend to question the motives of people like you who stay in hiding.


Posted by Huh?, a resident of another community
on May 14, 2011 at 12:52 am

The people who value their vacation time in the south of France are probably from France... and are going HOME. They can't help it if that's where they were born and raised, so please stop those comments. It's not helpful, but, then again, maybe the folks who make those comments are from New Jersey.


Posted by Proud Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2011 at 12:55 am

In believing that one mold doesn't fit all, each child is unique and as such not all are ivy league bound. In our household we have a graduate of Harvard Business School, one who never completed college but started his own successful business, a UC graduate, and a Foothill student. As a family, we respect each others freedom to choose. Bottom line, home base should be stress-free and a supportive environment. That said, I believe wholeheartedly in discussing the issues that the Dauber family has brought to the kitchen table and to do whatever is necessary to provide a healthy learning environment for our children.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 14, 2011 at 6:33 am

Leave Paly Alone-But if an Olympic athlete is caught gaming the system he/she will be disqualified. The schools must be notified by parents who game the AP system, and their grades, compared to other kids, should be adjusted down. This should also be pointed out to college admission boards. It this is done, I have no problem with AP classes.


Posted by PAUSD elementary school parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 14, 2011 at 8:48 am

My child is still in elementary school here in Palo Alto, and enjoying it very much. My wife and I think he is in a wonderful school. We can't say enough good things about the principal, and the learning community that the principal has fostered at the school. Also, the homework level seems quite appropriate to his age.

So far, so good.

Looking forward past middle school to his high school experience..., it would help me understand these community discussions if I better understood what people mean when they say high schoolers are "gaming the system" in reference to AP classes. Maybe it's because my child isn't in high school, yet, but sometimes it feels like everyone else on the discussion board (except me) understands what is meant by the phrase. And, at least one discussion theme seems to turn around it.

Does it mean that these children are actively cheating in those classes? Is it just a different way to say "cheating in class"? Or, does it mean something more?

And, how pervasive is this "gaming the system"? By the tone of the comments, it sounds like people are saying it is quite common.

Thanks.


Posted by parent , a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2011 at 9:06 am

Wynn Hausser,

It's not that vacations in the south of france are being whacked. Your snarky attitude towards foreigners that spoke up at the meeting is divisive, and ignorant. Nothing more annoying that arrogance about caring for student stress. As posted by

huh?

"The people who value their vacation time in the south of France are probably from France... and are going HOMEI"

what's next, foreigngers go home?

I hope the Daubers will not become part of the problem by insulting other parent's motives when those parents speak. It takes courage to speak up, as you yourself said "anyone willing to put themselves out there publicly..should be praised."

And by the way, the people that value vacations may be the most easy-going, and stress free cultures. What's the saying.. some people live to work, and others work to live?

This community is not as stupid and cold hearted as people want to make it out to be, everyone understands the value of a care free break, everyone wants it. Everyone loves their children, everyone wants stress reduction.

The insanity is that Palo Alto can only have a stress free break if school starts in August?

I have yet to hear a coherent explanation about why other options were not on the table after years of trying.




Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

Elementary Parent

Welcome to PAUSD. It is a district with many opinions, and people who like to share them, but we are generally speaking a nice set of parents even though it may not look like it from time to time on this discussion board.

As an elementary parent you may or may not have witnessed yet some of the games that are played here. Some parents may ask teachers for extra homework, or complain that their child is not being challenged enough, or ask if there are tutors or extra classes that other parents recommend. You may innocently see flyers in Friday folders with classes, camps, that promise to help give children an extra challenge or a readiness for the next grade level.

By middle school, many parents are paying for tutors to actually teach ahead the material so that when the material is taught in class at school the child is reviewing material already known and when the tests are given the child automatically gets a better grade. This enables the child to get good grades and into the higher (honors) classes. By high school, this often becomes epidemic in some of the higher level classes. The teachers know it and teach to students who have already studied the material, going through the material quickly or expecting them to learn through homework rather than actually teach the students in class. For any student who has not already learnt the material, they struggle to keep up or have to join the game and get tutors to help them because the class is moving too quick for them. This means that these students end up feeling dumb and/or stressed.

When it comes to AP classes, this can be the norm. The kids who have already learnt the material ahead of time, are bored in class and lose patience with anyone who "doesn't get it" first time in class because this material is new to them. It leads to problems outside the classroom too.

SAT prep classes start in middle school for some students. As soon as a student is half way through their freshman year, you will start receiving mailings from establishments promising to prepare students for SATs, college application guidance, etc. and it gets worse through the high school years. With these establishments offering ultimately to "write" college application essays (write is my term, not theirs, but you get my drift) there are many takers in Palo Alto. It seems that parents are willing to pay $$$ to get ahead in the public school system and those who are unable to afford it or unwilling to play the game, suffer.

And, it isn't only in academics. From sports (yes even Little League) to performing arts, and even community service, parents are giving their kids the edge by using money, influence and anything else, to get their kids one step ahead. And when so many are doing it, we wonder really where education is taking place. Is it really in the PAUSD classrooms, or is it somewhere else?


Posted by daniel, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 14, 2011 at 9:38 am

Gaming the system means that some kids are given very expensive private tutoring years advance in subjects they would be taking AP classes in. Kids who are not prodigies, kids whose parents just can't afford ultra-expensive private tutoring years in advance of AP, or kids of parents who just want them to have a normal, healthy childhood have almost no chance of getting A's in those AP classes because the system is gamed by the parents of the kids who arrived well prepared years in advance. It warps the standards of grading, just like an Olympic athletes juiced up on steroids games the system, and gives those kids a significant, some would say insurmountable, advantage in the elite college admission process.


Posted by holy toledo, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2011 at 9:52 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by countersued, a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2011 at 9:56 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 14, 2011 at 10:21 am

Dear Dr. Dauber,

My post, which was removed, does not meant to mean to you. I am glad that you said something which is not in this article after my post. Now we know you more as a real person and what you did at Stanford. Thank you for your work to reduce stress for Stanford students. However, what you did does not apply to PAUSD. PAUSD cannot just change to Pass/NoPass system. I am sure that Gunn students would be happy with Pass/Nopass, but then how could Stanford or other Ivy schools to choose which Gunn student to admit? As other post said, the real problem is schools like Stanford and Google. Our kids live in this area and like to go to a good school and work in a good company close by. But those are just in dream for 95% Gunn students. That is the pressure that they feel...I pass by Stanford daily and Google is next to my home, but I have no chance to get there even I try very hard...depressed!! How can you help for this? Can Stanford admit more local students? Can Google hire more local interns and workers?? My son applied for summer intern at Google, but of course, he did not hear a word from Google, not even a simple "NO" email to inform him. He was waiting since February for a response from Google. I told him that just forget it, no answer means NO nowadays. Move on to other summer job. So, why Google cannot hire more local interns to reduce kid's stress???? Why hey only wants interns from top schools! Don't you think that Google is adding more stress to local Gunn and Paly students?


Posted by pamom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 10:31 am

To the Daubers, thank you for your standing up for students. For those who disagree with the Daubers, stick to arguing the issues instead of trying to shut them down. My students have graduated, but the concerns raised here have been going on for some time. Not all students feel extra stress which is true but you are the lucky ones. Too many students are really very stressed out and something should be done to help. To the leave Paly alone parent: if you talked with the students you would find out many of them are very stressed out.

About the AP's -- no one is suggesting to do away with them. But limiting them to 3 makes sense to me. I do think there are students who can handle 5, but it does add to the homework load and time commitment. And many students are trying to take as many AP's as possible because of the admissions process. So limiting it to 3 would help and give students a chance to do other things.

Not mentioned about the AP's -- some students prefer AP's to the regular high school class because the regular class is too easy. It's either take the very demanding AP or the way too easy and dull regular class. If the regular class was also interesting and challenging, this would help attract more students, and it should be this way anyway.


Posted by parent , a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2011 at 11:09 am



Elementary parent,

A lot of the "gaming" is mostly in Math and Science.

If your kid is solid to strong in Math in 5th grade, they can aspire to be strong to high achieving in Math in 6th grade, to comply with the requisites to be in 7th grade Honors Math. 7th grade honors Math leads to Algebra in 8th grade,

Algebra in 8th grade is the pre-requisite to go into the honors Science lanes in High School. Honors Science lanes are obviously a requisite for further achievement in APs and so forth.

The pressure in the Honors classes is that you pretty much have to get A's. So, it is only for A students. However, that is a huge chunk of the student population.

The tutors can probably do more harm than good because you will never know how much pressure you are putting on your kid to keep up or stay ahead. On the other hand, the system holds this carrot in front of you which says, you can't go into the higher lanes in Science in High School if you are not a Math honors student.










Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

@ parent , a resident of the Old Palo Alto

You are entirely correct to point out my insensitive and unnecessary remark, and I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended. These issues are far too important for that kind of thing and I try to avoid those type of exchanges. Unfortunately I did not in this case. Note to self: no more posting after midnight...


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2011 at 11:23 am

@Resident

Thank you for your post. I am not suggesting that Gunn and Paly switch to pass/no pass. Your earlier post commented on my teaching and stated that I must be a terrible teacher who gives out As to "dumb" students. Although it is obvious, I will state that I think it is wrong to call students "dumb" and I would never do that nor think it.

Stanford's move away from grades was a good thing for our students. In general, making school more about learning and less about grades is good for connectedness and good for kids. Last night we had a blast working on our project with our students and grades were not the focus. Several undergrads came as well because they were excited to have the chance to socialize with a professor in a non-evaluative context. The more chances we give our students to know us and spend time with us, the better off they are. I think we can provide that to Gunn students by using an advisory system.

Some educational experts do believe that grading is overly important and have recommended eliminating grades, even in high school. That is not part of my agenda, though I think that part of what the P-8 Task Force that the Board of Education should create next year should examine the curve. We should do an analysis of our classes and grading data to ensure that we are not forcing students into too harsh a curve. And, if it is discovered that many students are struggling with the evaluative mechanisms in particular classes, adjustments to the curve may be in order, or adjustments to the material being tested, or both. I recall that in my daughter's soph math at Gunn the teacher informed us that as many as 30% of the students in the class had difficulty passing any of the tests. If that is true, then that is a situation that is in need of adjustment.

I believe that the district policy toward that situation of massive pedagogical failure in which 30% of the students could not pass any tests was to simply weight completion of homework to a very high extent such that students who essentially failed all tests would still receive more or less a B in the class. This of course is highly destructive to student self-esteem and the sense that they have of themselves as competent learners. It is, in a sense, a corrupt bargain which is all cost, no benefit. What is the benefit of a situation in which students are receiving a B in a course in which they do not understand the material? Or is the test testing the wrong material? Or is the instructor so asleep at the switch that he/she fails to incorporate the fact that one third of the students are not learning the material and improving the teaching or recalibrating the exam or the curve or both? It is hard to know what is going on in the math curriculum without a more focused examination that should be provided by the P-8 Task Force.

I have seen many comments posted here over the past several months indicating a high level of frustration over exams that do not test the material that was taught. So this is a pervasive issue and one that is causing unnecessary stress.

I am not in control of Stanford's admission standards. Ken is not in control of Google's hiring practices. If you want to send Ken an email about your son's application I am sure he can find out why it was not acknowledged. We do not know anything about that.


Posted by Grandma, a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2011 at 11:48 am

I am so glad my kids went through Gunn, graduated from College and are now out in the workforce. Sadly, we now have a group of parents who are bent on reducing the very high academic standards of Gunn and turning it into just a good average high school.

I have lived and worked in Europe and am well aware that the world is turning into an ever more competitive environment. It is the high achieving students from Gunn that will have the capacity to keep the U.S. in a leadership role. Sadly, watering down Gunn's capacity for hard work with high academic achievement isn't going to help.


Posted by don't be so condescending, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm

@PAUSD elementary school parent
Others have responded very accurately to your question since I have looked at this board but I will add all my points, too.
PAUSD high schools generally have a very good curriculum. PAUSD is known around the U.S. and by many universities. There has been a solid track record for many years, but the recent Tiger Mom phenomenom (read the Wall St. Journal article) has brought increased unnecessary stress and unpleasantness, affecting many students' educational experiences.
It "ought" to be enough that most students go through the curriculum here as it appears, making thoughtful choices, and have some serendipity (discover they love Bio, or Art or whatever.

Some parents, though, wish to constantly pressure their kids (who in general are no brighter or advanced EXCEPT they may become a year ahead in honor's math, etc. AS A RESULT of yrs of parent pushed paid prepping. They tend to require their kids to take as much of anything perceived as academic, it's a cram mentality.

A few things result. The prepped student has an easier time of it to earn a top grade (advantage). Some prepped students brag to some peers (some don't - they are secretive), and these students, naive or less wealthy or more balanced in life, are unsettled. Grades count for everyone. Everyone "cares."

The prepped student then "needs" more advanced curriculum (according to Tiger Mom) or "appears" brighter to the instructor. The whole standard is shifted ahead. Expectations rise. Such students may not be more intelligent or knowledgeable, but they have been crammed sufficiently and are motivated by Tiger Parents who pressure them to beat their peers. Don't forget to seek out the most advantageous summer education experience, too, preferably involving high level scientific research.
My point is, IF such parents truly felt PAUSD curriculum was weak (historically this is NOT the opinion for many years of college admissions, far pre-dating the Tiger Mom phenomenom), THEN these parents should SPEAK UP and contact curriculum people in PAUSD, the school board etc. But they DON'T. They don't care about the community or the school. They are often secretive in their selfish motivations and care about numbers: very top grades, top SAT scores, multiple top SAT subject test scores, multiple top AP scores, winning as many competitions as can be located, etc. Motivating your kids to do their best is correct; motivating them to "win" over others at any cost is a major source of unpleasantness in the atmosphere here. I was absolutely astonished when I witnessed the years of prepping for SAT done by some of my kids' peers - it was EXTREME and started early. (SAT prepping HAS been proven to be effective in raising scores)-we are talking EXTREME prepping here, though.
This skews the college apps process, since colleges look at an applicant in the context of his/her high school. Suddenly, a very high achieving and interesting kid looks just a little less than the kid who was prepped into the math competitions. I knew kids who put in 20+ apps to top universities; their acceptances likely took offers from kids who truly desired a particular university. A student can only attend one university, and sometimes the high level of apps is to beat others in terms of numbers of acceptances. What's more, the kids I witnessed often went strictly on reputation rather than knowledge of the college. Ivy League rules. The label is everything here. Never mind that some Ivies don't even rank at the top in some subject areas! Some high achieving kids in near Ivies are made to feel lesser. Really skewed experience.

The experience and circumstances in high level courses are sometimes skewed as some students have taken the curriculum in advance.

There are commercial schools (sometimes costly, time consuming) as well as private tutors and college admissions prep services that are very costly and elite and that include tutoring for these things, too. Some of them based in Cupertino used to be advertised in parenting publications, often with vulgar bragging about name of student, scores achieved, (supposed) Ivy League admissions offers.
I was surprised when I observed some parents have curriculum material saved and handed down to them which they then instill in their kids. My main problem is these kids aren't genuine.
As a result, sometimes teachers move ahead rapidly -- let's say in a demanding Chem course which is a large class -- and with all these students, all of whom are bright, there is an EDGE for those who have been prepped...the differences are minute but count bigtime in today's challenging university admissions process.
The student who is learning and doing his or her own work has less time to spend on ECs (extra-curricular activities -- these also need to be strong for college apps).
There are too many students applying to universities (I don't know when the population bump will end--perhaps soon), so universities are overcrowded recently. You may have heard in the news that private universities are very costly and public ones have budget strains, so winning merit aid and awards is also more helpful than in the past, in order to get a good college education.


Posted by parent , a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Wynn Hausser,

Thanks for acknowledging a different point of view

Grandma,

You mention Europe, and the world as a standard for competition, and that high academic achievement maybe is inconsistent with a stress free education. Europe vacations more, and I wonder what country would give up a vacation month to school.

People malign Europe and the world, but in the same breath use it as a standard for educational competition.





Posted by don't be so condescending, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 12:18 pm

@PAUSD elementary school parent
oh, about the cheating -- I believe there has been an increase in cheating and plagiarism, sadly, at the highest levels, with the pressure to win at any costs. This is likely kept very quiet normally, but I knew of one case in a HS class and the PALY student graduation speaker class of 2008 (president of the student body) was very publicly discovered to be a plagiarist by a student from Mountain View (all of this easily found online, I imagine, since it was in the local news media/newspapers). The disheartening thing is this boy was rewarded with a slot at Stanford. What a great role model for the younger students!
I am not an expert, but I believe educational experts think that if a student is caught cheating or plagiarizing, it is likely they have done it before.
I think ethics and honesty should be made prominent in the school atmosphere, not winning at any cost.


Posted by parent , a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm



Grandma,

I'm actually not sure how much more Europe vacations, varies by country, maybe they go to school on average more days than we do, 190 days instead of 180 days but vacations are sacred there.

And there is no AP system where you have to be a genius in Math by 5th grade. Everyone takes Physics, everyone takes Chemistry....



Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I would not want to shut the Daubers down but I do take issue their agenda and motives, their connectedness to our community, their credibility on these particular issues, the meanness they direct at our schools and staff and the interpretations and conclusions they draw from old and questionable data. Furthermore, they are calling for people to use their own names but it is very convenient that they themselves have no students at Gunn right now. Where were they when their students were going through? Many of us cannot use our names because we seek to protect our students. By the time the Dauber's younger children arrive at Gunn their celebrity will be old news.


Posted by curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2011 at 1:13 pm

"One of the teachers in the STAR test proctoring us today was questioning aloud about other schools who limit kids to 3 APs a year. I wish Gunn had that. Maybe I wouldn't feel like a piece of garbage " quote from a Gunn student.

Interesting that this student talks about limiting APs (which I completely agree with) but this is not what the Daubers seem to be saying.

Regarding block scheduling, ask most English teachers, they would be bored teaching for an hour and a half and so would their students.

Regarding calendar change, which is done and now listen to the complaints.

Regarding TA system just picture the competition and stress to get in with the "popular" teachers or the ones that really care vs the TA that just wants the extra cash and has no passion.

If the group really wants change for the better, then look for best practices rather than settling for another flawed system just to "be like Paly". Some say that this group is thinking "outside the box" but they do not seem to be even looking outside the district. They seem to want to emulate a school that has a superintendent named Kevin Skelley.


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm

@ Wynn Hauser

I will not disclose my name for the simple reason that I am foreign born indeed (from Europe), and as such I have always felt treated as a second class person by a large number of US born parents in this school district and I don't want to add to that by going public with my name.

@ parent , a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood

The school systems vary widely from country to country in Europe. In my native country, it is almost "worse" than our AP system here. Everything and everybody is laned in high school. Worse even, depending on your performance in middle school and your first year of high school you are basically laned into a strict high school major. It can be very difficult to change majors and your major determines where you can go for college. Majors are for instance: math/physics, math/biology, humanities, economics, etc. If you are not good enough in math at age 14, you can end up in a humanities major and it severely restricts your options for college.

@ all parents

In my opinion, if Ivy league colleges become full of tiger moms' kids because of widespread gaming of the system, well, then, they are no longer worthwhile going to. They will be full of people who are automatons and uninteresting... and I'd rather my kids go elsewhere for their college years.

Honestly part of the problem is parents who are so obsessed with their kids going to Ivy league colleges, not just the tiger parents but also all parents who rant against the tiger parents and the "unfair" advantage they give their kids. Again, I am not one of those tiger parents).

How about you let your kids take the classes they love taking, not paying attention to tiger parents and cubs, even if in the ended your kids don't have an A but a B+ in that class? ... So what, if they have Bs ? They won't go to Harvard maybe, but they will still find a good college that is a good fit for them and will give them a good start in life. I know that from experience with my kids. If you adopt this perspective and make it clear to your child, then the tiger parents and cubs start being much less of a problem for your children themselves.

@pamom

Well, there ARE people who claim on these boards that we need to eliminate APs altogether (re-read this thread, and you'll see one here). And that is one thing I don't agree with... It would be unfair to the kids who take APs out of personal drive and interest. Everybody is not a tiger cub. And everybody does not demand in A in all classes. Some kids just want to take interesting classes that challenge them at their level.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm

@parent

The data that we are citing shows that Gunn parents and students are more dissatisfied with counseling than comparable parents and student at Paly. These data are neither "old" nor "questionable." They are the district's own data and is the most recent available. These data are from the 2009 WASC report (that is, the data provided by PAUSD in the accreditation process for Gunn), the 2008 Strategic Plan report, and the 2010 Strategic Plan update prepared by the district for use by the school board in its planning process. These surveys involved thousands of Gunn and Paly parents and students.

The results are remarkable consistent. You can learn more about it on the counseling fact sheet on our facebook page, or by coming to our open meeting on Tuesday, May 17 in classroom A-6 at Cubberly.

Web Link


2. I am concerned by your comment that you feel you cannot use your own name because you "seek to protect your students." From what are you protecting them? I don't understand. Can you say more about that?

MLD




Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm

The competitive atmosphere created by parents who extensively prep their kids outside of school is out of the Districts control. Limiting AP classes would not help, AP classes seem to be less of a stress inducer than peer pressure, busy-work homework and work which is not returned in a timely manner.

The block system at Paly is not perfect, yes it does take more of an effort to keep kids engaged for 90 minutes, but with only 1/2 your classes everyday, the homework load is decreased (especially for kids who may have a hard time shifting from one classes work to another) and the ability to focus on 3-4 classes in one evening rather than 7 is great.

The TA system is as good as the teachers who participate. Some are terrific, some are mediocre. There is more regular contact with the student, but any system can be improved.

The biggest things I think that can be done to reduce stress that the District can actually control are:
homework (quality vs quantity - collages, coloring and baking have no place in HS classes)
teaches that instruct during class time (even when some of the kids are "prepped" and bored, the rest deserve to be taught)
a prompt return of student's work. My senior son has experienced too many papers and project that were a major part of his grade, not being returned for literally months. It makes it hard to know where you stand in a class, a major source of stress.


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm

@ curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,

It is really surprising that so many people don't know that APs ARE limited in PA high schools in theory. You are limited to two and have to get a special authorization to take more.

Where did you get that "Regarding block scheduling, ask most English teachers, they would be bored teaching for an hour and a half and so would their students."??

I am asking because at Paly it is widely popular with kids, teachers, and parents alike. It gives teachers more time to go in depth into their lesson or topic for the day. And it gives kids mostly 2 days between classes in the same subject, with more time to do their homework for that class. It works really well, and really reduces stress levels.

As to calendar changes, many, many people did not want it BEFORE it was voted, which is why it actually took so long. We have every right to still be unhappy about it. For many of us it deprives our kids of something very important for their overall well-being: August vacation time with relatives. So please, allow people to voice their unhappiness.

As to Paly, it is a wonderful school, not perfect, but very good. I personally love it.


Posted by Marielena G-M, a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

@Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 13 hours ago.
I do not think we should change all at once. One thing for sure that needs to improve is the counseling system. I know that if Gunn would had have the kind of counseling that Paly has, things might had been a lot better for my children and others when he suicides occurred. A reason for this is that when the second child died at Gunn, I went to check on my kids during lunch time and looked for them, since I could not find them, I went into the counseling offices and wanted to get a class schedule of one of my students so I could find them in their classrooms, Unfortunately, there wasn't any counselor available. The receptionist told me that they were all at a meeting, and that I should come back in one hour. I insisted in seeing one, so they told me to wait. While I waited, three kids came into the counseling office and asked to speak to a counselor, they were told the same thing and me, to come back in one hour because the counselors were at a meeting. I could not believe it. I always thought that when crisis occur, more counselors will come to campus, but I was wrong. Kids did not had support at least during the lunch hour while I was there. We have to change this because another crisis could occur, and it is very important that our kids get firs mental/emotional aide in a time like this. Also if they had someone they trusted they could had gone and speak to them about how they felt at that time, and would had not suffered in silence. Hope nothing happens again, but in case it does, we need to be prepared to give them the best social and emotional support. Please join us and share your ideas on how to make sure this change happens this school year, our kids deserve the time we invest in making this happen.
Working together we can make the world a better place for our kids :}










Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm

By the way, I do think this picture makes us look a lot more severe than we are, and not very friendly -- not to worry, we are actually very friendly!. But of course it is a serious topic so I can see why they used that shot.


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I feel so bad reading about your terrible experience Marielena and I understand your call for change at Gunn.

Maybe the culture is different between Gunn and Paly... Let me tell you how a suicide was actually prevented at Paly when my daughter was there a few years ago.

My daughter was part of a group of friends with one girl who had emotional problems (not tied to school work as far as I can tell, but still serious problems)... The girls knew their friend was fragile and in crisis. One morning, that girl did not show up at school. The group of friends instantly was very worried about her and what might have happened to her. The girls tried to call their friend several times but she did not answer her phone. They grew even more worried and decided they had to take action. Instead of going to class as normal they went and talked to an adult they knew at Paly (I honestly do not recall who it was, a teacher, a counselor or staff). That person thankfully immediately listened to the girls and took their concern seriously. Then, he (I think it was a man) took the 2 or 3 girls with him in his car and they rushed right away to the missing girl's home to check on her. Well, when they got there, she was there, but only semi-conscious. Somehow she may still have opened the door for her friends. In any case, they managed to get in her home. She had just taken that very morning a high dose of meds and was in very bad shape. They took her and rushed her to Stanford hospital where she was saved.

It was a harrowing experience for all, including my daughter. But,it was also a strengthening experience for the girls who saved their friend in many ways. They are all doing just fine now.

What it took to save their friend's life was:

- concerned friends who cared, noticed, and took quick action.
- concerned staff who was immediately available and listened
- prompt, joint action of students and staff.

This was after the 2003 suicides and I am sure Paly was sensitized to those issues. I am hoping it still is the case.

So, yes, having staff available at all times for student concerns is a must. I feel we have them at Paly. Some teachers are not as good as others. This year my child there does have a teacher who hands assignments back way too late. However, perfection is only an ideal, and Paly is a wonderful community in my opinion. I hope you can create such a community at Gunn.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 14, 2011 at 2:21 pm

The prepping of kids years ahead of AP distort the teaching and learning process of AP classes and profoundly hurts students who may be just as bright and motivated. It often causes the teacher to move too fast and makes the student who weren't prepped feel unjustifiably slow and incompetent. It makes the prepped students more likely to be admitted into elite colleges over students who may be at least as worthy. My suggestion is that parents of prepped student be required to inform the school before registering for AP classes and that their student get handicapped in relation to other students when grading. The school should also inform college admission boards of AP students who were prepped before taking them. This would reduce the gaming of the system and is only fair.


Posted by curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm

At leave paly alone:

"It is really surprising that so many people don't know that APs ARE limited in PA high schools in theory. You are limited to two and have to get a special authorization to take more." It is THEORY, and college admissions know that so students/parents apply for more. This also limits availability for students who wait to take APs because of the overwhelming demand from those who choose to go beyond the limits.

Where did you get that "Regarding block scheduling, ask most English teachers, they would be bored teaching for an hour and a half and so would their students."?? I asked several experienced teachers, both here and east coast, who said that the they felt that an hour was the perfect amount of time for their teaching. The complaint that I have heard from block is that some teachers tend to fill up the time by letting students get started on their homework. This can lead to less teaching. I am not saying this for all, but I think we can all agree that not all teachers are of the same quality.

"I am asking because at Paly it is widely popular with kids, teachers, and parents alike. It gives teachers more time to go in depth into their lesson or topic for the day. And it gives kids mostly 2 days between classes in the same subject, with more time to do their homework for that class. It works really well, and really reduces stress levels." I am glad that it is working for you but I have heard from other parents that it has reduced stress but not sure that it is the best for all subjects. Opinions, not fact.

"As to calendar changes, many, many people did not want it BEFORE it was voted, which is why it actually took so long. We have every right to still be unhappy about it. For many of us it deprives our kids of something very important for their overall well-being: August vacation time with relatives. So please, allow people to voice their unhappiness." No one says that you cannot be unhappy about it, but if the change was not made there might be just as many unhappy people. It is extremely difficult to please everyone. I agree that taking away August is bad and there will most likely be fewer volunteers, that sites have depended on, to help start the school year. But this is one for the major points that the Daubers wanted and they now have it.

"As to Paly, it is a wonderful school, not perfect, but very good. I personally love it." I think that Paly is wonderful as well. My point is that it is not perfect and why are we being asked to look no further than what we already have. Districts around us have implemented changes that may improve on what Paly has as well as support the changes needed in the best interest of the students. There was no intention of my opinions/statements to be taken so personally.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Marielena G-M, a Paly student committed suicide earlier this year. The school handled it very well. They sent a counselor into each of her classes to meet with the students. Had extra counselors from other places available to talk to students. Staff was very visible on campus for days. Most importantly, they recognized that the students need to grieve and they let them -from posting notes on campus to sitting together crying and talking, the kids were allowed to feel what you would expect them to feel. It was close to finals and the kids were also given some flexibility in their classes if they felt they could not focus. I really admired the way it was handled.

Daniel - your suggestion about admitting to prepping for classes is good, but since some of the prepping that many students receive is pretty unethical to begin with, I have no reason to believe parents would inform the school and eliminate their child's advantage.


Posted by Leave Paly alone, please, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

@ curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,

....................
"It is really surprising that so many people don't know that APs ARE limited in PA high schools in theory. You are limited to two and have to get a special authorization to take more." It is THEORY, and college admissions know that so students/parents apply for more. This also limits availability for students who wait to take APs because of the overwhelming demand from those who choose to go beyond the limits.
....................

If what you mention actually is the case, I have a suggestion:

Give students their 2 favorite AP classes only, and then wait list those asking for more than 2 APs for the rest of their requests, and give priority to the students who are asking just for 2, no matter their year/level (junior, senior, etc.)




then one suggestion about APs


Posted by Marielena G-M, a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2011 at 3:19 pm

@Leave Paly alone, please, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, 46 minutes ago
Thank you for your understanding. I hope more parents share stories like yours. This might help other students to take action when a friend might be in at risk. Your story give me goosebumps, and I am not sure that a staff at Gunn would had done the same thing. The students did the most important job of reporting it to an adult, and the way the staff responded was heroic, what a team! We need to help our students to connect with each others and to adults so they can can spot if something is unusual in their friends behavior, and have someone to ask for help, like these friends at Paly did. This takes time, and unfortunately many of our students spend too much time at achieving and there might not be time to socialize or to chat with friends. I have been trying to make changes at Gunn, since the suicides occurred by I have been joining groups, parents, Palo Alto Track Watch, and we have done some improvement, but thre is still a long way to go, at some point I was feeling like giving up, but now that the Dauber's came out and started to work for the same goal, it seems like they have energized me, so I won't give up this goal of improving things at Gunn. Your story also gives me more energy. Who knows but maybe by improving the counseling system and connectedness at school, we might be saving another one, like the students at Paly. I do remember the time when the suicides at Paly happened. I came to know the sister of one of them, who I really admire because she came back and did an event about the suicides issue to help students at PAUSd who might have been experience some of the pain she did when she lost her brother to suicide, and by doing this she is helping to break the stigma about mental illnesses and social emotional issues. I felt so honored that I worked with her in this event. I am also glad that Palo Alto on Line gives us this opportunity to get to hear other people's ideas and stories. I think that the Daubers are only trying to help our students.


Posted by pamom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm

@ Posted by parent:

"I would not want to shut the Daubers down but I do take issue their agenda and motives, their connectedness to our community, their credibility on these particular issues, the meanness they direct at our schools and staff and the interpretations and conclusions they draw from old and questionable data."

Your statement above is an example of trying to shut the Daubers down by maligning them with bad intentions and lack of credibility. Please stick to the issues and explain why you disagree that Project Safety Net should not be implemented. What do you oppose and why? Throwing mud at the Daubers does not help.


Posted by Marielena Go-M, a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2011 at 6:30 pm

@palo alto mom,
Yes, I was as a track watcher, I was at Paly the next day when the students were told the bad news. I witnessed the difference between students in crisis at Gunn and Paly. I was at Paly at 10:00 and I saw all the students mourning and expressing their lost, they were hugging each other, writing notes, for the girl in the presence of a lot of adults, not like at Gunn, when I walked at the Gunn campus looking for my kids, and I could not find an adult to ask the whereabouts of my kids. I had to go into the office. At Paly, I even found the principal outside keeping an eye in the kids, and I spoke briefly with him. There were a lot of adults in campus, not at their offices, not having meetings. They were there for the kids, right when the students needed the support, just like it should be. I was impressed by the support that Paly gave to their students, which confirmed once more that Gunn needs to improve on counseling system. Some people argue that Paly teacher-advisory system is not working because teachers are not counselors, and I know that, but at least teachers and students get to know each other well and students can be referred to the counselors or to the professionals if they suspect a student needs help of if he/she asks for help. What a difference between both school.


Posted by Some perspective please, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 15, 2011 at 7:16 am

Ken and Michele,

I get that you are on a public campaign to bash Gunn, but if you don't have kids at Gunn now, how is it that you know what the counselors do, how stressed or not the Gunn kids are, etc? It will be years before your 4th grader will be in high school.

My family's walked the hysteria-in-anticipation route. Our oldest was scheduled to start at Gunn right after stories about the cluster seemed to be everywhere. We mourned for those families, questioned and re-questioned our decision, and cried when we had to discuss this with our child whose world view was unblemished up to then. We thought often about going elsewhere. I had heard about Gunn "pressure" and also assumed that they had to be related.

I did my research, spoke to tons of mental health professionals, and found that Dr. Skelly was right – academic stress does not cause children to take their own lives. (Check your stats on depression - you overstate it by a factor of 10.)

Web Link

Parents of a child with mental health issues must take great care about the environment they put their child in. Fortunately options exist short of leaving the public schools - students can take their most difficult classes over the summer or self-paced on-line if peer/pacing pressure is an issue for them and, in a big school like Gunn, there are several teachers who teach the same subject so students with special needs can avoid the hard teachers/classes (easy to figure out who those are, any Gunn counselor will tell you if you ask). Not perfect and not easy to be sure, but possible.

We crossed our fingers that what we knew rationally trumped the irrational fears we had and sent our child on to Gunn.

What we found when we got to Gunn was a community that was accessible, noncompetitive (yes, that is not a typo - kids work hard there but one-upsmanship is not the culture that we've experienced), fun, appreciative, earnest and immensely caring. It is not a private school, so we didn't expect 16:1 student teacher ratios or 30:1 counseling, but it is far, far better than any public high school my friends' children are at or that I attended when the world seemed like a simpler place to grow up in.

Even though my child takes hard classes and is not the class stand out, Gunn works extremely well for us and many, many other families we know there despite headlines and now media parades on campus to the contrary.

----

For those reading down the thread this far, realize that PAUSD high schools have 8,000 parents and the Dauber's group has 20 (with another 100 who get their emails) despite all the unprecedented and repeated publicity its gotten at board meetings, in the Weekly (see above!) and recently by pamphlet-ing parents at a huge PTA event on Gunn's campus a few weeks ago. No doubt their concern is heartfelt. But know that their most critical messages are that of only a vocal few.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 7:34 am

Thanks to the various posters in this thread for taking these issues seriously and participating in the community discussion. I hope that We Can Do Better Palo Alto is causing all of us to think more about how to help make sure that our kids are thriving in our schools.
I want to make a few points that we've made elsewhere but that might get lost in all of these words.
First, the changes that we're seeking aren't radical departures from existing PAUSD policy. In fact, most of them are already district policy, but the district hasn't implemented them. The district leads, along with the city of Palo Alto, the Project Safety Net (PSN) community coalition in response to the suicides that resulted in the plan released in the summer of 2010. Section P-8 of that plan, entitled "Supportive School Environments," calls for the district to "study, discuss, and implement" a focused, broad-ranging study of how to improve practices in the schools around topics like homework, advisory, test and project scheduling, and others in order to reduce academic stress and improve student emotional and mental health. The plan also calls for determining what practices are working well and implementing them district-wide. (See Web Link). The school board recommitted PAUSD to the PSN plan in an Memorandum of Understanding that it approved at its January 11 meeting.
Unfortunately, it's been nearly a year since the PSN plan was released and the district has not moved forward to begin the work of addressing academic stress that P-8 requires. We have been urging the Superintendent and the school board to take even a small step -- for example, appointing a committee/task force drawn from staff, parents, teachers, and local experts -- but have been told that it's impossible to even get started until next school year at the earliest because of the district's planning cycle. I think that response is not consistent with the urgency of the situation that we face, nor with the fact that the district is already a year late in implementing its own plan. We are hopeful, based on public and private comments, that fully implementing P-8 will be a focused goal for PAUSD next year.
On the question of implementing an advisory model for counseling at Gunn, PAUSD has a focused goal for this year to "Examine effective practices both inside and outside the District for guidance and counseling for college and other post-secondary opportunities and adjust high school programs" and to "Improve student connectedness and strengthen support systems for student social, emotional, physical health" (see the district's staff presentation to the school board in April on this topic at Web Link). The presentation stresses the importance of using data to measure results and improve the delivery of programs and services. At the board meeting at which this focused goal was discussed, we presented data from various district surveys over several years of parents and students at Gunn and Paly. The data is remarkably consistent in demonstrating that parents and students at Gunn are approximately twice as dissatisfied with counseling services as at Paly. This difference is almost certainly due to the fact that Paly uses a teacher advisory model in its counseling approach, since the quality of the counseling staff is uniformly high across both schools. The reaction of members of the school board to this data was to affirm that all students have the right to the same quality of services, and to promise to thoroughly discuss whether to make the adoption of advisory at Gunn a focused goal for the next school year.
Second, the connection between responding to the suicides and improving the emotional and mental health of all of our students by reducing unnecessary academic stress is not our idea, it's the district's. Section P-8 of the Project Safety Net plan (the P stands for "Prevention") recounts a growing concern in the community over at least the last decade over what it calls the "degree of stress and distress within Palo Alto's teen population." That reflects the practical experience of educators and health professionals in our community, and a broad consensus in the academic literature.
Third, as Kathy Sharp said in the article that sparked this thread, we're convinced that the choice between academic excellence and reducing academic stress is a false one. Do you do your best work when you are sleep deprived, facing a pile of work that you can't get through, and worried about competing with your fellow workers? Neither do our kids. We need to undertake a focused examination of how to make improvements in our schools that increase both learning and student emotional and mental health. Our kids deserve schools in which they can thrive socially, emotionally, and academically.
If you want to be part of this effort, or are just curious about learning more, visit our website at Web Link, come to our meeting at Cubberly community center, Room A-6, on Tuesday May 17 from 7pm to 8pm, send us email at info@wecandobetterpaloalto.org, or give me a call at 650-906-4340.


Posted by ProveIT, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 8:07 am

@Some perspective please Besides it could be the high devorce rate, drug, medical records. If they need to target only the school academic, they may need to show the public about these things a non-issues because we're not convinced. Again Gun itself don't Kill.


Posted by parent , a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2011 at 8:39 am

Some perspective,

Your post is a perspective that everything is ok, but your tone was so defensive and bitter about what the Daubers are doing, it made me wonder if you don't understand what they are saying, that you actually believe that the voice of a few does not mean much or count, or that your being happy is good enough.

Please be careful about the Skelly myth about there being no connection between stress and mental health. Your own link which does not support what you are saying lists "school problems" as the FIRST reason kids are considered at high risk for depression disorders.

Parents should be paying attention to their kids's stress level in school regardless of their grades, or how friendly everyone is around them.



Posted by A Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 15, 2011 at 9:34 am

@Some perspective please- I second your post! well done!

We are very pleased with Gunn academically and socially. It is a very large campus. Like other large campus high school, parent volunteers and the rest of the community are working together to fill the gaps. My children are learning to be resourceful, assertive, and to handle stress appropriately. Teachers may not be available every day - but certainly open to appts when requested. So, parents, lets help our children to motivate themselves from within and to improve their time management skills(facebook, etc).

And to parents who are pushing to limit APs: would you also limit SATs, sports awards, etc.?


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 10:02 am

@Some perspective please

I agree with parent that you seem quite angry. Nevertheless, I will respond to your concerns. First, we are not "bashing" Gunn. We hope to see the district improve Gunn and the other schools in the district, where stress has become a very serious health issue for all the district's kids. We have had two kids at Gunn recently (one is a freshman the other other a junior in college). Current Gunn parents are members of We Can Do Better. We are highly involved in the community in sports, the Y, scouting, church, and other activities. We are not "outsiders" to PAUSD or Gunn any more than any other parents. That is silly.

You may believe that PAUSD is already doing all it can to address teen mental health and suicide risk, and that Gunn has a noncompetitive climate where all children thrive. We can disagree and put forth our ideas. We differ on policy. That is what a democracy is.

But about some things there is not space for disagreement and that is about well-established scientific facts, such as the rates of adolescent depression.

I am writing to respond to the misinformation you are spreading in your post regarding rates of adolescent depression. Your link does not support your assertion, nor could it since your assertion is that only 3% of adolescents suffer from depression. It is very important that this be corrected. Both national and state and county (and PAUSD) data bear out the extent of adolescent depression rates at approximately 30%.

The National Adolescent Health Information Center in its 2008 National Profile of The Mental Health of Adolescents (Knopf, Park & Mulye 2009) (see pages 5-6)

Web Link

states that 28.5% of high school students experienced a two week period of depression such that they "felt so sad or hopeless almost every day, two weeks in a row" that they could not function in their usual activities. The numbers are much higher for Hispanic youth -- nearly 50% of females answered yes to this question. Female rates in general are higher than male rates of depression but this may be due to response bias (i.e., females are more willing to admit to emotional problems).

The National Comorbidity study cited in this paper notes that only about half of youth with depression had ever told a professional about their depression (Kessler & Walters, The Epidemiology of DSM-III-R major depression and minor depression among adolescents and young adults in the National Comorbidity Survey. 1998.)

California State and local data are consistent with those at the national level. Lucille Packard Foundation has a wonderful website that provides a highly user-friendly and intuitive user interface for community access to the data (Way to Go Lucille Packard!).

Web Link

According to data from the California Department of Education, California Healthy Kids survey in the link above, over 30% of 9th graders and 11th graders have experienced depression, using a similar definition of depression: "in the past 12 months, they had felt so sad and hopeless every day for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some usual activities." Again the rates were higher for females than males. In Santa Clara County, the results were the same, and in PAUSD it was around 25%. I urge everyone to visit this excellent site for an eye opening experience.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that more than a third of depressed individuals report suicidal ideation. Over 60% of those who die by suicide, like our daughter, suffer from major depression. Among those with alcohol or drug abuse issues, the figure is 75%.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, "Deaths from youth suicide are only part of the problem. More young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the United States (U.S.) found that 15% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 11% reported creating a plan, and 7% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey."

Similarly, in a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that 20% of teens had thought about suicide, about 17% of teens had made plans for suicide, and more than 8% of teens had attempted suicide in the last year."

Web Link

Despite assertions to the contrary, the links between stress and depression and suicidality is well-known. (Kay R.Jamison, Night Falls Fast 2000). Other studies have also borne out this link. (See, e.g., Ang & Huan 2006). As far back as 1983, studies were finding clear links between academic stress and pressure and levels of depression in gifted high school students (see, e.g., Yadusky-Holahan & Holahan 1983). Work stress is associated with major depression (Wang & Scott 2001). Hillsman & Garber (1995) found that receiving a low grade on a report card increased depressive symptoms in fifth and sixth graders. Academic stress, school stress, stress caused by bullying or sudden disappointments -- it is all stress, and stress is linked to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. This is particularly true in the developing brains of teens, who cannot necessarily see ahead to a future different than the present. That is what the "It Gets Better" campaign against gay youth suicide is doing -- it is trying to give these teens a concrete vision of a happier future. Schools are a locus of a loss of control for many teens -- another risk factor for depression, isolation, and suicidal ideation.

We understand how threatening and scary these numbers can be for parents of teens. There is an intense desire on the part of parents to look at those teens (including our child) who have died and find some difference, some sliver of daylight, some theory about "bad parenting" or mistakes that those families have made -- anything at all that will let them decide that it could not have happened to their child, that their child is safe and sound. Any suggestion that one's own child could in harm's way generates a lot of feelings and, often anger. But the facts are otherwise.

Denying science is not a useful exercise in depression any more than it is in climate change or evolution. It is a shame that misinformation like yours apparently can find a foothold in such an educated community in which people have access to high speed internet and good libraries where correct information is instantly available.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2011 at 10:29 am

Some perspective please -

you said "students can take their most difficult classes over the summer or self-paced on-line" in my experience as a Paly parent, students are allowed to retake classes over the summer to raise a grade, I have never heard of anyone being allowed to take a class online for credit and taking classes anywhere but Paly (such as St. Francis over the summer) is REALLY discouraged and frowned upon. Does Gunn have a different policy (and if so, why? We're supposed to be a "unified" school district). Unless a student has an IEP or 504, the get who they get for teachers and can't change.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2011 at 10:32 am

@some perspective please and A Gunn Parent
I "third" your opinion. My son graduated from Gunn last year and had a great experience. He had friends who were supportive of all areas of his life. He had teachers/administrators that he knew well and enjoys going back to visit when he is in town. He did not take a ton of AP's and was not in the highest math lane, but he feels that Gunn was great preparation for the academic rigor at his college. I realize that every organization can improve and as a community we should always be looking for ways to improve our schools, but Gunn is in no way broken and there are strong indicators to support this - dances are well attended, the Gunn Choir/Staff musical is an amazing event that showcases the relationship between students and staff, sporting events have a student following, students who would like to be involved in sports will find a team to play on, study groups and HW collaboration are the norm (NOT competitiveness), cliques are not a part of the social scene (student groups are very fluid and accepting), the AC (academic center) is a great resource and a comfortable gathering place.


Posted by Ann , a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2011 at 10:46 am

Hi Michele, I wanted to attend We Can Do Better meeting, but the meeting is on the same time as the AP US History meeting for parents at Palo Alto High School.

From what I heard, AP US History at Paly is a great class, but it is a very intense class where NO ONE is expected to get an A. Students start working over the summer and they spend hours and hours every week on homework assignments.

I need to go to the meeting to really hear this from the school...

A.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 10:51 am

Shoot. Ironic! Send us an email and we will keep you posted. kenneth.dauber@gmail.com or mldauber@law.stanford.edu. You can also check our website wecandobetterpaloalto.org for updates on our next meeting etc. Good luck with APUSH. It is a lot of facts/memorization and a lot of kids say it is their least fav AP.
M


Posted by retired tenured teacher, a resident of another community
on May 15, 2011 at 10:53 am

I taught at the high school level and eventually left this district and went to another district, in Northern California. I went to a lower paying job because I couldn't stomach the pressure in the system in Palo Alto any longer. It was almost cultish.


Posted by dig deeper, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 11:24 am

There is a difference between a depression screening question (where you get your 30%) and clinical depression diagnosis (3%).

I am not a science denier - and am happy to be corrected - but a yes answer to a screening question does not mean you are clinically depressed. That would be like saying someone who tells their doctor that they have more than two drinks at parties needs to check into the Betty Ford Clinic. It just gets you to the second question, not a diagnosis.

My understanding is this sequence (academic stress --> depression --> suicide) does not happen without a missing link, bullying for some, mental health problems for others. It would be a service to all the families here who are aching to better understand the issue to mention this whenever you speak out about it.

Reports about your message make it sound like Gunn is to blame.

You blame the counseling system, when you really are asking that there be more adult contacts on campus so suffering kids can be spotted and hopefully helped. No dispute there, but your insistence that changing the counseling system will prevent suicides does not follow. Paly had suicides a few years ago (and one a few months ago) with the advisory system. It is not a cure.

You push too for block scheduling. Take a look at Healthy Kids and other surveys and you'll see Gunn students repeatedly reporting being happier, healthier and having less homework than blocked Paly students.

It is important for people to know that stress affects different kids differently and that it is not true that unless Gunn does what you imply it needs to do that all kids there are at risk. There are stress-free ways to navigate though Gunn. If that doesn't work for the 3% or so who are clinically depressed, we may need to look elsewhere to help. There is no magic fix that can be done at Gunn that will help all children.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 11:52 am

This is like arguing that the earth is round. I assume that there is no amount of factual information or scientific study that will persuade you, since you are not interested in being persuaded, so I will merely correct the misinformation you are disseminating to the unsuspecting public.

In 1998, rates of diagnosed major depression (a serious disorder) in teens were around 11% according to the NIMH. T

Web Link

I presume that most Palo Altans would believe the NIMH, the CDC, and the California Department of Education survey data over the thing you are citing, which is the online HealthyPlace.com, a random commercial aggregation website. But even this site does not support what you are claiming, since it also states that around 12% of children age 9-12 (that is, preteens) suffer from major depression here:

Web Link

I hate to send anyone to this site since it is full of misinformation and is not an authoritative resource for anything, but even this site does not support the ludicrous claim that only 3% of teens suffer from depression.

As everyone knows, there are also high rates of less serious dysthemic disporders as well as undiagnosed major depression. All credible estimates are that approximately 30% of teens suffer from depression. Period.

We are not blaming Gunn for the suicides. That is a red herring. We are urging PAUSD to implement programming, such as advisory, that will help to increase connectedness and prevent suicides, as well as increasing the supportive school environment for all our kids.

This is not our idea. This is district policy. In June 2010, district officials including a Vice Principal at Gunn, the district nurse, and the district's director of student services, as well as the district's consulting Psychiatrist, all worked collectively to draft Section P-8 of the Project Safety Net suicide prevention plan. The Board of Education entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Project Safety Net to implement this plan in January 2011.

We would like this plan to be implemented. Do you want your elected and school district officials to ignore their own plans and legally binding contractual commitments to improve our schools? Do you want them to ignore their WASC school improvement commitments or their own strategic planning data?

If not, please urge greater accountability and follow-through. This isn't about blame. It is about prevention.


Posted by Ann , a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Advisory at Paly does not happen frequently enough to make a difference. My child has only had two advisories since January, even though there is time allocated for it every week.

Also advisory does not help many kids. It all depends on the advisory teacher and how committed they are to the students. Some teachers are not well trained to be advisors and that is a real problem.

About the APUSH class, I find it an absurd that the class is created for kids NOT to get As. From what I heard, students who do not spend around 3 hours studying everyday are told upfront that they will not get As. I understand the rigid grading is to keep the standards high, but spending one hour studying everyday should be more than enough for kids to be able to have a good grade in class.

Am I the only one that find it an absurd to have a class where students are told upfront not to expect an A even if they work hard on it?


Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Ann,

I remember similar warnings when my oldest child was debating about whether to take AP U.S. history back in the spring of 2001. Paly did not say nobody would get an A, but made it clear that most people would not. It struck me then -- and now -- as a reasonable, good-faith effort by the school to maintain high standards in the class while providing transparency to prospective students about the rigors in store. Students and their families could then decide whether to take them on. It was a wonderful class and, if I recall correctly, my daughter got a B plus. That, along with other Bs on her transcript, did not prevent her from being accepted by a top Ivy League university.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 1:08 pm

This is why some of our kids are broken. PARENTS can't say no to the competition.

Web Link


Posted by AnnE, also, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Lost in all of the prep, competition, bragging, pressure, and all the other strategies for getting ahead is the actual EDUCATION. Where does true learning figure into all of this?


Posted by dig deeper, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Michele,

I agree. It's important to be correct on the stats.

In your post and article you say "well-established scientific facts" support that "as many as a third of adolescents suffer from depression." You cite NIHM and KidsData/Healthy Kids Survey for that.

KidsData/CDC/CA Healthy Kids survey is the screening question, not a report out of diagnosis rates, so that stat doesn't support your "1/3" suffer from depression claim.

Your NIHM stat from 1998 does say 11 percent as you posted (again, not "1/3") but that stat relates to all "depressive disorders" not to "major depression" as you state. There are different types of depressive disorders. Major is the most serious.

Web Link

Your 1998 NIHM stat was updated in 2002 when the National Institute of Mental Health reported that as many as 8.3% of adolescents suffer from depression. Not your 11% or your 33%, however.

Don't get me wrong, no number is a good number for this. But before you claim that others who disagree with you are calling the world flat and you out them as science deniers, make sure you've got your own facts straight.

BTW I read the Project Safety Net report differently than you do. The operative word for me is "study," which means just what it says - study. If after studying things on the list we find that it won't work/won't make a difference/will make things worse, do NOT proceed to the "implement" step. PSN's list is not prescriptive; it's just a best guess list of things to start looking at.

Just a niggling problem with another claim you made. "Stress has become a very serious health issue for all the district's kids." Support? I ask because stress is not a problem for all the Gunn kids I know who manage to get good sleep, eat well, have multiple interests in and outside of school, take hard classes with good grades, and check out fine at the their annual physicals.


Posted by parent , a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm

dig deeper,

This use of data is interesting.

If data would be acknowledged and respected, then the biggest failure of the district should be highlighted, the achievement gap.

Daubers, I suggest you extend your efforts to address the achievement gap, they are not that different from the issues that reduce stress and improve the quality of social emotional health for under served students in the district.





Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm

@dig

The CDC defines depression in its research as "depressive symptoms." This study (similar to the CA healthy kids survey) asks: "Have you ever felt so sad or hopeless almost every day, for two weeks in a row, that you couldn't do some of your usual activities?" Results from the 2005 study used by the CDC indicate that 36.7% of female and 20.4% of male high school students reported this level of sadness.

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007). Youth Online [Online Database]. [Available at:
Web Link]

Please see:
Web Link

These numbers are consistent in Santa Clara county and in PAUSD.

This operationalization uses these criteria (similar to those for a "major depressive episode" in the DSM-IV) that rather than "diagnosed" problems because who is diagnosed is impacted by who sees doctors, who has medical insurance with mental health coverage, who is referred for treatment, who youth tell that they are having issues, family income, and a host of other factors. If we looked only at diagnoses we would dramatically understate the problem.

I agree with your interpretation of P-8. It is a list of those things the district should "study, discuss, and implement." TPAUSD should implement P-8 by studying the problem and the possible range of alternatives. I agree with you that we should only implement those things that we find after study are likely to work and not implement those that are unlikely to work, as would any thinking person.

Let's get started.






Posted by Reality check, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm

@dig

The only problem with the idea that "everything's fine," which seems to be your point, is that it isn't. We've lost six or seven children (I can't believe that I don't even know how many). I don't really care about hairsplitting over major depression or depression screening. The "screening question" that you're dismissing is "in the past 12 months, they had felt so sad and hopeless every day for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some usual activities." Are you seriously suggesting that we shouldn't care about that or try to respond?


Posted by dig deeper, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Read my post again -- "Don't get me wrong, no number is a good number for this."

My point is that we cannot start to have a productive discussion unless everyone agrees to some foundational facts. The numbers are helpful.

If 1 out 3 kids suffer as Michele Dauber originally stated, we have an epidemic. To your point, being sad for two weeks when you are a teen does not equal clinical depression (remember breaking up with a boyfriend? your best friend dumping you? your parents divorce? etc.) Some part of that is a temporary and painful part of growing up.

If 1 out of 12 suffer, we have a problem that is best managed differently.

My other point is that many of the school-based solutions floated probably won't help for the reasons I stated, but certainly will be disruptive, divisive, and, as the article states, perceived to be abrasive too.

Take the calendar change which the Daubers and others supported. It wasted tons of district resources that could have been better spent on other social emotional initiatives, divided a community, significantly diminished the credibility of previously well-regarded mental health leaders, and got us a result that everyone admits now will probably hurt our kids more than help them.

Frustrating, for sure.

I take some comfort in knowing that what the schools don't do won't make a difference. If the Palo Alto suicide profiles are like those elsewhere, we'll find that our time is much better spent working to identify the kids who at risk and getting them the professional mental health care they need (a family and community problem that is not within the training or expertise of our teachers). One-size fits all school policy changes fit no one.

The blanket solutions aimed at our schools may make you feel better because the current school board is easy prey and they give you a false sense that you are doing something to help. But that is where the danger lies. Most take the focus away from the real work that needs to be done while doing nothing to help the kids who need our attention most.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 15, 2011 at 4:19 pm

My son, who is highly intelligent, bright, motivated and hard working, is struggling to get a B in his AP class. We were warned by the teacher beforehand that it would be extremely difficult to get an A. The only students with a realistic chance of getting an A are those who were prepped by private tutors in the subject, some for several years prior to taking the class. Because of those students, the pace set by the teacher is furiously fast, basically 'no one is going to pick you up if you fall even a step behind'. This is a major source of stress for students, and it exists because of the gaming of the system by unethical, ultra-competitive parents.


Posted by Teacher, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm

To daniel:

Your student should drop my class. Grades of C and below indicate that the student cannot handle the AP course load. You make speak to me in person if you wish to.


Posted by Ann Marie, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

<<Grades of C and below indicate that the student cannot handle the AP course load<<

Sometimes Grades C for a hard working smart kid means that the teacher is not doing his/her job right. If we need to rely on private tutors outside the classroom for a kid to have an A in the class, it really means that the problem is with the teacher/system, not students.


Posted by Reality check, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 15, 2011 at 5:28 pm

@dig

Thanks for clarifying. I also love your assertion about the calendar that "everyone admits now will probably hurt our kids more than help them". Source?
I'm going to believe the Stanford professor with real data over an anonymous poster on Palo Alto Online about reading the academic literature and statistics. For me, the point is that a lot of these kids are not happy, which makes them vulnerable. You can have your head in the sand if you want.


Posted by curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm

What is wrong with a "C" in an AP course? At Stanford that would be a "Pass" grade.


Posted by a bit about Ms. P, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm

The Stanford person you speak of is not a professor/researcher. She's a lecturer/teacher.

Why this is important is that she mentions her research in her talks, but what she is referring to are surveys not the kind of research most think of that have controls, careful measurements, etc.

Ms. Pope doesn't hide this. She says that she does not base her recommendation for pre-break finals on formal research because neither she nor others have done any.

Palo Alto Weekly interview with Ms. Pope last October: Web Link ("There hasn't been hard core research where you have a control group, do follow-up and check stress levels. That hasn't happened")

PAUSD echoing the same last November: Web Link ("there is no empirical research that investigated the relationship between stress and pre-break finals").

Actually, what Ms. Pope bases her pre-break finals advice on it seems is a survey given to ONE unnamed high school which switched.

Hardly the kind of authority I'd stand behind as a board member when telling the families of 12,000 kids that their summers need to be disrupted and telling 1,000 high school seniors each year that they have to do all their high-stakes college stuff in 20 fewer days.

In an interview earlier this month, Ms. Pope "stressed the point that reducing student stress is not the ultimate responsibility of the schools." Isn't that the same point dig made above that you seem to be calling into question?


Posted by don't be so condescending, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm

@Chris, with all due respect, I think with the population bump (of college applicants) and more recent experiences I have personally seen with multiple teens, there is increased need for absolutely top grades right now, compared to 2001. I have witnessed multiple students tracking their every grade very closely.

about APUSH...I was puzzled with the high status of this course at Paly. If you are interested and want to take it, take it. What I found is it was a status symbol and students with zero interest in the subject took it (realizing a grind was ahead, extra reading) for competitive reasons. Students openly discussed this in front of me. Then, more students felt pressure to sign up. Otherwise, college apps coming out of Paly would not look good. Of course, a substantive course with a solid teacher is also good. My sense is this fad of APUSH was particular to Paly (if you went to other schools, there might be other AP offerings, no particular status course)


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm

@Chris Kenrick
By mentioning that your child made it into an ivy League, even with Bs, aren't you just fueling the fire that the Daubers are fighting against? Apparently at least one of their kids is at Stanford. How did they get there? Your child and theirs must have been somewhat competitive and driven to get into these schools. Why is it all of a sudden that you all feel compelled to decry the school system and the pressure. What I am getting from this, is that the pressure comes from the parents, and that the parents don't have the capacity to tell their kids no, so they want the schools to do it. I don't really understand the motivation for this. Where was this outcry from all after the deaths by suicide?


Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Nowadays,a students with all As,and piano and sports can not easily go tio ivy.There are plenty of exemples this year.


Posted by ObserveC, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm

AMOM, This is an Horror! we need to find out how the kids can handle the situation like that. Perhaps the parents as well.. I would say this is even more urgent matter than anything afterall. Now there is nothing that the school can DO!


Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2011 at 9:01 pm

It is just like a painfully ill patient,the doctors would only prescribe pain killer.


Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Parent,
I was responding to a reader who finds it absurd that students are told up front not to expect an A in AP U.S. history, even if they work hard -- remembering a similar warning when my daughter was a sophomore 10 years ago. It seemed like an effort by the school to keep a high level and discourage students who might sign up for the class just for the grade and not out of genuine interest. In an environment where sheer numbers dictate that Stanford/Ivies must reject 90 percent or more of their applicants, the best that schools and parents can do is keep the focus on best efforts and learning, not grades, with the awareness that there are many great colleges and universities and nothing magical about Stanford or the Ivy League. I mentioned my daughter's admission with Bs only as an example that the hyper-focus on straight As and top scores, rather than best efforts and learning, seems misplaced.


Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Go to gunn high school check this years records,if you can find someone with loads of Bs and without high achieving sports or talents who got into ivy,please inform us.


Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Of course, substract those who have legacies just like those Stanford professors.


Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm

A totally unfair system from top down.


Posted by Misha, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Dear leave Paly Alone,

The story you shared about the friends and teacher who saved a friend is exactly what Gatekeeper training is all about - teaching us to notice when something is amiss, having the courage and wherewithal to raise an alert, and getting the person help.

I am happy that both schools are beginning to institute Gatekeeper training because kids will experience crisis for any number of reasons, and when they do, their survival will depend on those around them, including their peers and friends.


Posted by parent, a resident of another community
on May 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm

From what I understand, students who have all AP A's, varsity letters, founded non-profits, and are virtuoso musicians end up in the lottery of other equally qualified students from the Bay Area. From there you have to hope you have the winning ticket, because the colleges want to create a diverse student body... culturally diverse as well as geographically diverse. Maybe we should all move to East Jibipp.


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 15, 2011 at 10:20 pm

I am sorry to hear about the US History AP class. I took this class at Gunn 25 years ago, and it was fabulous. Never more than 1 hour of homework/night, ususally less, and a great teacher who really inspired us. Plus I got a top score on the AP exam. The more I read, it really sounds like the schools have changed. It makes me very sad.


Posted by Izzit Accurate?, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Regarding 90% rejection quotes, how do we know that all the applicants have competitive applications? Perhaps students who wish (but have no real chance of acceptance) are applying.

And regarding limiting the amount of AP classes students can take, don't expect this BoE to agree since most have Stanford/Ivy League degrees and/or children attending Ivy Leagues or Stanford.


Posted by mommykins, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Hmm, everyone is bemoaning the APs and getting into Ivy system. Given that there are way more applicants than spaces in the ivies, how do the posters here propose that the winnowing is done?


Posted by retired tenured teacher, a resident of another community
on May 16, 2011 at 9:48 am

I think this conversation would not be complete without mentioning the students who are hospitalized during high school at Lucille Packard Hospital for depression and related stressful illnesses.


Posted by don't be so condescending, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

A whole lot of factors are in play in current times. Whatever the university, one at least hopes the applicants are genuine ones who have earned their grades, written their own essays, and not had extreme prepping/advantages. You can't legislate SAT prepping, I know, but it has come to a point where there is a lot less authenticity in certain applicants managed by Tiger Moms.
This is being discussed a lot on the national level, not just in Palo Alto by any means. But Palo Alto moms have the $$$ to pursue such things and they often do. This naturally creates a certain amount of stress in students who do their own work, have not had a science project arranged for them by their parents, etc. To tell such honest students "oh, get lost" is nasty, as is the assumption one sometimes reads here that such students are lesser.

Local culture of overemphasis on status and rankings here.

I have read concerned discussions on the national level about reported # of applications from universities, leading to (supposed) acceptance rate/selectivity.
Some parents/kids are very competitive and put a whole lot of stock into these figures/rankings as if they were gospel; the whole point here is to get into the most selective university (never mind they have different ways of reporting these figures, how many they take off their waitlists, ED/EA, etc.)You can choose to ignore or take with a grain of salt, but it is discussed so frequently here!
Universities are very pressured to participate in US News & WR college rankings.

Of course, evaluating information from a wide variety of sources would be the best way to decide where to apply. It's difficult to believe any college would be operating if it didn't have something to offer of merit. But I have heard students deride a school that is ranked something like two points below another one (within the so-called top 15), even if that is statistically meaningless, the methodology of the "ranking" is somewhat questionable, doesn't consider the department/major the student is considering, the fit of the school, etc. Students comment here on such things with such certainty.

Yes, a famous university is known to invite apps from students who are very unlikely to be accepted, thereby greatly inflating the # of apps - perhaps by as much as 10,000? - and getting apps fees. A school like CalTech has self-selecting applicants. There are some schools that "advertise," strongly soliciting applicants. There are some that don't. This can make a difference in the # of apps, especially with status-obsessed types. I have heard that overseas, only certain schools are known (regardless of their merits) and many overlooked, and that is a factor now in admissions.
There are rather strange things about quiet practices in high stakes admissions that have emerged, such as Harvard's Z List (Harvard Crimson - someone relayed to me online)
- Increased competition with population bump lately of high school grads applying to university at the same time as a great increase in the number of apps they put out there. Then, with the extra apps, waitlists add to the confusion.

There are no guarantees with any college applications. There are many students and parents here interested in big name and/or Ivy colleges, and that may indeed suit many.
There is also competition out in the real world for these slots.
There is also, according to a lot of analysis of Ivy admissions policies, supreme challenges for top white and asian applicants when one takes into account slots set aside for legacies, athletes, hooks, URMs, ultra-major donors.
It is possible for a "near perfect" applicant without the special slot above to be turned away today, a great change from times past.
These things are all reality and are understood.
What we don't want is students/parents opting for the ends justify the means, but that seems to be the mentality now in certain places. I have not found it to be universal; but we need to promote honesty and honor.

Students are compared with peers in immediate school population -- rather than San Francisco Bay Area -- and the student not the parent is supposed to be the applicant. Yes, seems they do look at the state level, they want students from every state (no problem getting CA students).
When one realizes one has peers who game the system, gaining an edge -- parent-managed applicants benefitting from Tiger Mom tactics, one gets a bit disheartened. This does not make for an optimum high school experience. Universities can only make so many offers to a particular school. Some of the students have been "managed" in truly extreme and costly ways for years with an eye to high level admissions, that indeed amount to not being genuine or doing their own work, sorry, some of us find this unethical.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 16, 2011 at 9:52 am

Teacher-what makes you think my son is in your class? If he were, there would be no reason for him to drop it, but for you to actually become a good teacher by actually teaching, not rushing through the curriculum because some students arrived prepped and became the bench mark. By setting a furious pace and making it nearly impossible for most to get an A, you are actually helping those who game the system instead of being on the side the intelligent and hard working students who actually want to learn and play fair.


Posted by Gramster, a resident of another community
on May 16, 2011 at 10:54 am

My condolences to everyone with a loss due to suicide. A family member of mine hung himself. He was not suicidal but taking anti-depression meds because his doctor prescribed them for a backache. That point I cannot figure out. But the sad fact is that my family member was compliant with the doctor's orders and even went to the same doctor to complain of strange thoughts. The doctor doubled his dose on Cymbalta with Abilify and told him to come back in a weeks. Sadly, he will never be back. Please check into the fact that many anti-depressants can cause suicidality. Dr. Peter Breggin is an authority and has written many books on the subject.


Posted by curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 11:13 am

Daniel, you are so correct about the pace and the level of teaching in some of the AP classes. My son took AP Stat and the teacher started every class with an overheard of problems and asked who already knew how to do them. When most of them raised their hands she said, "then lets move on". This happened over and over. When my son said that he did not know how to do them, the response was, "maybe you should not be in this class". He actually had the courage to sincerely say that he expected to be taught the subject during class and was again told, "maybe you shouldn't be in this class". He dropped the class out of frustration and took it in college and found a much more supportive teacher who taught the subject and he had no problems with the class. I find it interesting that we ask students at high school to learn/prep in advance for an AP class when this same class, when taught at the college level, is able to be taught in the classroom.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2011 at 11:34 am

Unless there is verifiable empirical data, I have a problem believing claims on this thread that state "many" or "most" AP students are gaming the system. Does it happen? I'm sure it does. But unless you can provide concrete evidence/data, then the most you can claim is "I have heard", "my son's friend", "I think", "I suppose"..."I'm guessing based on what I've heard."

Frankly, I can say the exact same thing from the opposite point of view. According to my kid, no one in his AP class has gamed the system by going to tutors 4 years in advance, etc. Further, no one he knows has taken SAT prep courses since middle school.

If we can deal only in verifiable facts or data, then the emotions of this debate may actually recede just a bit.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2011 at 11:37 am

re: AP Stats. Must be at Gunn. My kid is in AP Stats at Paly and that is certainly not the case.


Posted by Marielena G-M, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2011 at 11:55 am

@Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood,
Daniel, this is the way the AP teachers work, they do not want to give any extra instructions, and do not want "C" student in their classes. Two of sons at Gunn who were taking AP classes with different teachers and both of them were also told to drop off the class because they had a C, they say they do not want students with C grades. I tried to ask for help from tutors at Gunn, but they had a long waiting list. One of my kids drop it, the other one ignore the teacher's request and he did fine at the end, he had a B. Teachers do not want to teach, they just want to review, and they expect that everyone who is in AP has been tutored ahead of time, and this was not my sons' case. They are smart and wanted to challenge themselves so they would not be in a regular math where there is a lot of behaviors that disrupt the classes and very little teaching goes on. It is sad that teachers like the one who post here would rather kick them out than improve their teaching styles. This will continue because the school officials and principals are afraid to tell them how to teach if they have tenured, unless parents joint and make a change.


Posted by Do not understand, a resident of College Terrace
on May 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm

High school students (and their parents) do not take APs nor try to do well academically for no reason in a vacuum.

The problem is with the elite universities and work places (like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Google, Facebook, Intel, Goldman Sachs,...) that demand academic success.

Until those institutions become more liberal and progressive in recruiting and allowing in lower achieving students, this problem of academic pressure and stress will prevail.

let's stop the emphasis on achievement and academic success. Let's boycott those institutions that tolerate, and even promote it!


Posted by daniel, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm

We have a convergence of two issues in AP classes. Students who game the system by being prepped years in advance, and teachers who have no interest in teaching the subject, but in pushing it along as fast as possible, which gives the prepped student insurmountable advantage over students who don't game the system. Students with inquisitive minds who dare ask the teacher for guidance and truly want to learn the AP subject are encouraged to drop the class in some cases because they haven't arrived with vast prior knowledge acquired through tutoring. To the poster who claimed there's no way of knowing which students are prepped-you are wrong. The kids figure out who is prepped almost immediately, and the teacher can figure it out even sooner. This is not a criminal trial where forensic evidence is required, it's impossible to hide who is prepped and who isn't. The presence of prepped students created a culture in which AP teachers are not interested in teaching, only in pushing the class according to the benchmark created by those who games the system, and they discourage good and honest students from asking questions-a fundamental component in the process of learning and acquiring knowledge.


Posted by Ann, a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Just want to clarify.... My son is interested in taking AP US history because he loves history! He is an outstanding student and loves to learn. But sure, he also care about grades and he wants to go to a good college. He is sad to know that does not matter how much he works, he will not have an A in AP US history, because the class in not designed for kids to get As.

All the kids he knows who are taking APUSH right now are getting Bs. Those kids are also outstanding students and they are working hard. They are in advanced classes and they have As in everything but APUSH.

I'm just roubled by the fact that AP US history at Paly is designed for kids not to get As even if they are really smart and work hard.

My son knows that it will not hurt him to have one B, and that is how he will handle the class. He will work hard, and he will learn, and then he will have to be happy with his B.


Posted by Herman, a resident of another community
on May 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm

As a mentor to High School students in a Futures Program, and 70's grad of Gunn, Schools can always do better, but the real problem with student stress is 95% from the home. Lighten up parents on what Schools are acceptable to kids. There are literally thousands of excellent Schools across the country, with different approaches to education. Saying its only acceptable to be Ivy League or Stanford can be damaging to kids (my Mother was Radcliffe (Harvard) and Dad Penn & Stanford, and I felt pressure to attend certain schools they did not even know they were causing. Take a look at Kenyon in Ohio, Davidson in North Carolina, Colorado College, Oberlin or Reed for the ultra liberal or for Christians Wheaton, Whitworth or Seattle Pacific, or Bowdoin, Colby, Bates in Maine (SAT's not required at Bowdoin), Willamette in Oregon, Rice in Texas..There are many many others. Yes many of these are expensive private Schools, but they GIVE a lot of money to those who need financial help. Continue the effort to improve the Schools, but start at home supporting kids with unconditional love and support for their decisions. Its a wide world out there!


Posted by parent, a resident of another community
on May 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm

FYI - In order for teachers to have credentials to teach a subject, they only need a C in their coursework.


Posted by PumpTheGame, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm

@daniel - you hit the point right on the head: essentially a number of teachers have created their own "lane" by only teaching to the highest kid in class.

This happens as early as Middle School, where the "hard" teacher has double the homework, and killer tests. Grading on homework is pedantically picky, and overlooks any real learning. Often the difference between an 'A' and a 'D' is minor administrative issues such as format or coloring. Everything is suppose to be perfect.

When combined with gaming the system in High School, it is lethal to real learners. The teachers need leaders to manage them, and set standards which will teach to a directed outcome; not to the highest kid in class.

That kid, by the way, does not need a teacher. Just show him a book and he will teach himself.


Posted by PumpTheGame, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 3:27 pm

@Herman

You miss the point entirely. Kids don't get to choose the teachers, and don't get to choose the class. Middle School is entirely dictated, and High School laning prevents most decisions. When a bad match happens with a teacher who has made their own "lane" harder by deciding to teach to the smartest (read: easiest) kid in class, then ALL students are penalized.

And it is not about grades - this demotivates kids, and demoralizes them when they work hard and get a 'D'; while their friend in the next section with a different teacher gets and easy-'B' or 'A' for less work.

The parents of such kids can lighten up all they want, their kid will still be a demotivated learner, regardless how low we set our goals for college.

You missed the point. This teacher behavior is destructive.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Even worse, AP teachers go out of their way to make it virtually impossible for kids who are not prepped to get an A or even a B. The kids who didn't arrive pre-prepped are pretty much second class citizens in AP. These are the kids who are actually thoses who are curious and inquisitive about the subject, the students who are truly interested, but they aren't being taught the subject by teachers who have a grotesquely misguided notion of what teaching is all about. AP teachers pretty much create a lane for the "high" students and disregard the rest. The comment of Teacher", supposedly an AP teacher, is illuminating: "daniel:Your student should drop my class. Grades of C and below indicate that the student cannot handle the AP course load. You make speak to me in person if you wish to".


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm

This discussion of APs, laning, and stress is fascinating and exactly the type of discussion we hope to see more of. I found PumptheGame's comments very interesting and somewhat similar to one of my kid's experiences at Gunn in some classes. I hope all of you will consider attending the We Can Do Better Palo Alto public meeting tomorrow evening. The meeting will be at Cubberly in Classroom A-6 from 7:00-8:00.


Posted by Lauren Bonomi, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Interesting discussion w/r/t APs and being prepped or not... In light of that, I share my thoughts regarding the concerns about the condensed calendar and how teachers will accommodate/adapt to it or not.

I went back and looked again at the two calendars that were presented to the board... the 86/94 and 90/90. I think the assumption is that with the adopted (86/94) calendar, teachers will have fewer teaching days in the fall than they have now. Not really.

From a teaching perspective:

If you take out days for CAHSEE and Star tests (2 days in the fall and 6 days in the spring), teachers have the same number of teaching days in both calendars. The 86/94 PBF calendar becomes 84/88. The 90/90 calendar became 88/84. BUT the 90/90 calendar had ~4 days of review supposedly wasted in January... which made it 84/84. The teachers always maintained they wanted the semesters to be equal in terms of course content. If the most they really had before was 84 days..... well, they still have it. There is no reason anyone should expect teachers to reduce or dumb down the curriculum.

So with the adopted calendar, students have 128 days to learn the SAME material with 42 non-school days (weekends/holidays).

With the roll-over calendar, students had 150 days to learn the material with 60 non-school days.

That's a 22 day difference in calendar span and 18 fewer days off.

Sounds like students have no room for error... no getting sick or opportunity to to catch up if they fall behind. Is that really how we want to support students?

It may cause even more students to prep in advance, because teachers have the same amount of class time to cover the material. Students have that much less time to deal with it.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2011 at 8:38 pm

"Even worse, AP teachers go out of their way to make it virtually impossible for kids who are not prepped to get an A or even a B. "

This is simply untrue. My kid, a junior, has 3 A's and 1 B in four APs so far, and has received no outside tutoring or preparation. There's a lot of paranoia out there.


Posted by kmom, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 17, 2011 at 8:27 am

Since this is neither a complaint or an argument, my post will most likely be ignored: but perhaps you will consider what i say, anyway:

It is really too bad, a city like Palo Alto cannot figure out how to have a school system that people are proud of. If I was an outsider reading this thread, I would never move here with school age children and if I lived here, I might move out. At the same time, I lived these nightmares while my kids attended Gunn HS and I empathize entirely. The Daubers recognized this too and are trying to change the atmosphere of the whole Unified School System to one that is simply, less-stressed. This is only a problem is you want to live in a stressed out environment. It doesn't matter if your student isn't stressed, it matters that others are. I can only speak to Gunn HS, but it is not a friendly place and it doesn't have to be that way. Ah, you want proof eh? Well unfortunately if I start naming students, teachers and administrators at Gunn HS who directly contributed to that stress, my post will be erased. What I did experience was one very good counselor at Gunn HS, who was available during those stressed out times and who were able to talk to my kids and help work out their academic or social issues. This counselor was assessable to us via e-mails and personal appointments on short notice and made the college application process easy. I realized early on that the person who could relieve the stress that the Gunn HS atmosphere caused, was a counselor who recognized that the stress existed. This is key


Posted by pamom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2011 at 9:56 am

@ Me Too -- Your kid who is taking 4 AP's and is doing well and has never been prepped is believable. But that does not invalidate the discussion here. The problems mentioned about too many students being prepped for AP's and then teachers moving very fast through the curriculum are all too common. I had one child who took some AP's and had a very tough time in some of them (no prepping and he had to have some tutoring then to stay afloat). He liked learning the subjects. He made Nat.Merit so he was definitely qualified (although he did have to drop two AP's). My next child took AP's in math and science and had no problem at all making A's (also not prepped). So I get it that some kids do very well without prepping. But the course should cover the material and not make it ridiculously hard to get an "A".

The point I am making is that in some AP's the students' grades are curved and this unfairly puts very able and eager to learn students at a disadvantage. It would be like taking Stanford's freshmen class and telling them only a small number will be able to stay there, and use tricky tests to cull the number. That kind of stress in a high school is unnecessary.


Posted by Paly Grad 09, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 18, 2011 at 12:27 am

amom-
"Nowadays,a students with all As,and piano and sports can not easily go tio ivy.There are plenty of exemples this year."

"Go to gunn high school check this years records,if you can find someone with loads of Bs and without high achieving sports or talents who got into ivy,please inform us."

I think that you're missing something pretty essential here: fit. Large schools might not put as much effort into it, but as a college student who is heavily involved with meeting prospective students through tour guiding, hosting, etc, I can tell you that some students, while academically stellar, might not be right for my school.

I'm on friendly terms with most, if not all, of the admissions deans at my small and rather selective college, and am especially close to the dean who covers the NorCal area. They've told me about some of the kinds of discussions that occur in committee, where they not only consider the students' academic qualifications, but whether or not the student demonstrates the love of learning that's really essential, or what the student could both contribute and learn as a member of the school community. As one dean said, "I've never gone into committee and said, 'Wow, this person has a 2400 SAT score,' but I have said, 'Look at what this person has done to be a meaningful member of society and change what they thought needed changing.'"

Schools may prefer students without any grades lower than an A, but talented people get in with Bs all the time. (I don't think that excluding people with "talent" is necessarily fair, either. I would argue that everyone is talented, and whether a student's talent is academic, athletic, musical, or something else, that talent is what makes them special.) Schools aren't just looking for grades and test scores or even a basic checklist of talents or activities ("musical instrument: check. sports: check. volunteering: check.), but real people with real thoughts and something useful to contribute to the conversations going on at schools. Yes, they generally impose a minimum academic requirement, but how else are they supposed to sort through the thousands of applications they get each year?

I'm both astonished and disappointed by your obsession with Ivy League schools. There are really fantastic schools that are well-respected in academic circles for their academic rigor and open intellectual thought, if that's what you're looking for. Focusing on what kinds of students get into Ivies is entirely misdirected, in my opinion.

Do not understand-
"High school students (and their parents) do not take APs nor try to do well academically for no reason in a vacuum.
The problem is with the elite universities and work places (like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Google, Facebook, Intel, Goldman Sachs,...) that demand academic success.
Until those institutions become more liberal and progressive in recruiting and allowing in lower achieving students, this problem of academic pressure and stress will prevail.
let's stop the emphasis on achievement and academic success. Let's boycott those institutions that tolerate, and even promote it!"

I really, really hope that you're speaking around a mouthful of tongue-in-cheek. If so, you're fantastic, since I laughed until I realized that you might actually be serious. If not, I'm more than willing to engage with you on the importance of standards.
(CliffNotes version: Standards- they are important to maintaining a functional, non-stagnant society. Throwing away standards- bad and unproductive for reasons that should be universally obvious.)

daniel-
"Even worse, AP teachers go out of their way to make it virtually impossible for kids who are not prepped to get an A or even a B. The kids who didn't arrive pre-prepped are pretty much second class citizens in AP."

I want to throw in my voice here as a student who was never prepped for any of my AP classes- though I suppose I'm a Palo Alto failure since I only took 4 in all my time at Paly. (Oh, wait, my dad helped me with my addition/multiplication/some basic math facts when I was 7. He stopped by the time I was in 4th or 5th grade, but maybe it was all that 'prep' that set me up to be a solid student in high school. Hmm, things to think about.) I never, never felt like a second-class citizen. My teachers always made sure to engage everyone who was willing to be engaged, and when I fell behind, I knew that I could talk to them and figure out how to attempt to catch up.

I am consistently appalled by the tenor of the discussion here regarding the teachers; I think that too many parents view them as 'the enemy' or some evil oppressor out to get your kids. They aren't. Teachers get into this business to help students, spread knowledge and engage with the youth. (Also, one suspects, given the optimism and enthusiasm with which they enter this field, to skip in meadows and frolic in the sunshine and pick flowers or something. What a sad disappointment it must be for them to discover that instead they're vilified by the people who ought to be most appreciative.)

Also, I feel like I'm going to throw in my hat here with "Teacher": If your student isn't doing well in class and no amount of work is going to make it better, why not either drop the class or take the grade he/she deserves? I did quite poorly in some of my AP level classes, but I accepted that it was a result of my failure to adequately complete homework assignments, do readings, etc.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 18, 2011 at 8:26 am

amom - not all kids admitted to Ivies have perfect grades, etc. We have a friend at an Ivy league school (which incidentally, he finds easier than Paly) who had a solid high B average, decent test scores, but a love of learning and a great advisor at Paly.

Paly Grad 09 - Most teachers in PAUSD are terrific, caring people who are very willing to help their students. But there are some who don't teach, who take forever to return materials, etc. that make everyone else look bad.

Regarding the "you won't get an A" comments for APUSH - there are also teachers who are teaching honors levels classes that say the same thing.


Posted by don't be so condescending, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2011 at 10:52 am

@Paly grad 09, as you know, while fit is vital, and I agree, you also know the Ivies and other universities with a large # of apps have to initially sort by SAT cutoff, class rank,etc.
THEN they look at other factors. Oh, this is usually after they set aside slots for athletes and legacies. We can't legislate how admissions are done, and they surely vary from school to school, but one cannot deny that admissions are challenging right now for many schools that would be likely appropriate matches for PAUSD students, AND that there has been a rise in Tiger Mom practices which are overboard and place others at distinct disadvantages owing to not being Tiger-parented. The extreme EC of setting up a nonprofit in Africa or India (err...with a huge amount of family $$$, travel, logistics helps, etc.) has already become hackneyed - what's next?
At least within our local community, I would like to have awareness among the naive (so they have a fighting chance) and also promote the student who does his/her own work, including apps.


Posted by gottabeme, a resident of Monroe Park
on May 19, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Why don't we just make more Ivies? We have so many people who are qualified who don't get it there must be enough people to make at least ten more!


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm



don't be...

"while fit is vital"

what is fit?


Posted by Wake up, parents, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 24, 2011 at 9:56 am

I've been following this thread and I am feeling disappointed about the attitude here- limit APs, reduce stress,, etc. I agree there is stress in our high schools. But, there is stress everywhere. We need to help our students to manage stress, gain confidence and set reasonable expectations for themselves. We cannot expect the world to change, just because it is NOT working out in our favor!! If you limit APs, it will not only fuel the outside enrichment business and NOT change a bit of the competitiveness of college application process. Remember, our students are competing with students around the world- not just in PA. Wake up, Palo Alto Parents!!


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2014 at 6:21 am

@Limit APs:

You say:
"One cannot expect all teachers to convene and list their test dates on a master calendar."

I say:
Yes! One can! There are schools that do this. All over the globe.


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